In Part 1 of this article, we learned about all the ways the human body has had to compromise in order to pull off the unique mammalian evolutionary feat of walking on two legs. Your spine, hips, knees, ankles all have points of failure that can make bipedal life an achy slog.
What can you do about it? Here are 10 best-practices that will diminish, delay, or completely avoid the damage that two-legged life creates for our bodies. Take them to heart and spend more of your life agile and free, as you were meant to be.
1. As you age, respect that your bones, muscles, and joints are becoming vintage.
Evolution is a harsh designer. It doesn’t do much planning for anything past reproduction age. Your spine, hips, knees, and ankles aren’t designed to be in peak condition past your 40s. Just as someone with a classic car or vintage record collection tends to baby their prized possession, you should coddle and care for your body with increasing tenderness each passing year.
This is a hard truth to swallow for some. It means you need to slow down. Pass on that final ski-slope of the day. Don’t try to outpace the 20 year old on the tennis, squash or basketball court. Choose the 10k instead of the half-marathon. Just one injury in the spine, hips, knee, or ankle can put you on the bench for months, so play on the safe side of the line and don’t push it.
2. Keep your body mass low, and lower it each year as you enter later years.
The choice to go bipedal means that you’re stacking your weight in a vertical column, and hoping that all the joints on the chain will hold up and perform under the pressure. The leaner you are, the less pressure you’re putting on these delicate links in the chain.
Over the years at Kenzai, we’ve heard from hundreds of trainees that their back and knee pain simply evaporates once they lose weight. If you’ve got pain in one of the zones mentioned in this post, before you move to surgery or other drastic options, try to get some mass off. You’ll be surprised how much this helps. You can almost hear your postural joints saying “Ahhh… I can breathe again!”
As you get older and your joints deteriorate, try to keep dropping mass at a slow and steady pace. This will keep you mobile for as long as possible. If you go to an assisted living facility, you’ll notice that the residents who are still spry are the ones with the least body mass.
3. Listen to your body and take warning signs seriously.
You have thousands of nerve lines in your muscles and joints. Each one has hundreds of little sensors which constantly give you feedback about how things are going in their small zone of influence.
We see SO many injury reports that start with “Well, it was feeling kind of strange but I didn’t think it was a big deal so I kept doing my exercises.” Don’t let this happen to you. Be the person that listens to the warning signs early and dials back before a small tear becomes a full separation. Being injured is THE WORST. Taking it easy for a few days and preventing injury is the smart way to go. But you’ve got to trust your body’s sensors and listen when they start blinking red warning signs.
Be especially careful in social exercise situations. It takes a brave person to tell a group that they’ll be hanging back because they’re feeling some pain and need to listen to their body. Be that big, brave person.
4. Move every single day unless sick or hurt.
Unless you’re laid out in bed with illness or injury, you should be getting 30 minutes of concentrated movement each and every day. Moving around the house or office doesn’t count towards this time. You need to be moving continuously with an elevated heart rate for the magic to work. This could be as simple as taking a walk or doing your workout. For your bipedal joints to stay in good working order they need to be able to get warmed up and gently move through their normal range-of-motion at least once a day. You are living in a “use it or lose it” system. Use it and you won’t lose it!
5. Find a weekly activity that focuses on large range-of-motion movement.
All activity is useful, but as you age into middle and advanced age (the danger-zone for your spine, hips, knees and ankles) try to spend some time each week doing an activity that’s primarily based around taking your body through complete ranges of motion.
For example, a long bike ride or spin class every week is great, but the body is restricted to a narrow range of motion through the “locked in” posture of the bike..Compare this to something like a yoga or tai-chi class, which will be using the joints in hundreds of different ways over the course of a session. Your joints are where damage from bipedal life piles up, and the more variety you can give your joints, the fresher and younger they’ll stay.
Beyond yoga and tai-chi, full range-of-motion activities include pilates, gymnastics, dancing, aerobics, and martial arts. If you’re moving your body dynamically through 3D space, you’re on the right track.
6. Go swimming.
Unlike every other type of exercise, swimming gives you a brief reprieve from the rigors of bipedal life. For those few minutes in the pool, your entire bipedal system gets to take a breather while your arms, core, and glutes become the main drivers of your exercise. Swimming is a fantastic way to balance out the bipedal body and keep your joints happy.
If you don’t have access to a pool or body of water, you can get similar relief from seated and reclining stretches at the end of the day.
7. Sit on the floor.
If you visit an asian country, you’ll be surprised how spry the elderly are. Part of this is a healthier diet and lifestyle, but a big part of their good mobility is the fact that they spend their lives moving up and down from the floor to standing.
SIt in a chair and notice how your hips, knees and ankles are positioned. Now sit on the floor. You’ll see that all your joints are at sharper angles, and you’re getting that all-important range-of-motion experience. If you can get in the habit of sitting on the floor when the option is available, you’ll find you’re feeling less achy and “old”. Your perceived age is almost entirely down to how much range-of-motion you retain, and sitting on the floor preserves that range of motion in small doses every day.
8. Include weight-bearing exercises in your weekly repertoire, especially later in life.
In part one, we discussed how our long, skinny walking bones create weak points that can fracture and break when we fall. One of the ways to beef those bones up is to give them something heavy to carry. When your bones carry weight, you actually compact the spongelike bone structure a microscopic amount. If you carry heavy things consistently, the bones will become denser and less prone to fractures.
This becomes a pressing matter as you enter late middle age, when bone density naturally declines. Ironically, the best time to start lifting weights and working with a barbell is when you get older, not when you’re a youngster with naturally dense, flexible bones.
9. Don’t smoke.
We all know smoking’s ill-effects for the heart and lungs, but did you know that it’s also a major contributor to poor bone and joint health? Nicotine inhibits the bone-forming osteoblast cells that make new bone. It also reduces blood supply to the joints, creating inflammation and reduced repair function. Nicotine also interferes with calcium uptake in the blood, meaning your already compromised bones have less material to work with.
There’s a reason one of the first questions on every medical and insurance form is “Do you smoke?” Smoking is a significant force-multiplier for every ailment a human being faces, including those caused by our rickety walking physiology. Bipedal life is already tough enough, adding tobacco to the mix is a huge own-goal you should avoid.
10. Practice good nutrition and sleep to maximize repair function.
The walking life is a story of slow decay. Spinal discs harden and shrink. Hip-sockets lose padding and start to grind bone on bone. Knee joints lose cushioning and ligaments become thin and stringy. Ankles become rigid and fragile. This is the devil’s bargain you were born into.
The only thing standing in the way of this decay is your body’s rest and repair function, performed every night as you enter deep sleep.
Have you ever seen road construction being done in the middle of the night? A city will send a crew of workers to do big jobs overnight so that daytime traffic isn’t impacted. Your body has the same system. During deep sleep a swarm of repair hormones and cells are dispatched to all corners of your body. They survey the damage you took during the day and rebuild compromised structures.
If you don’t get enough deep sleep, you shorten this night crew’s time to get the job done. If you don’t have a nutritious diet, you make this crew work without the right building materials. To slow and reduce the damage of bipedal life, sleep and a balanced diet aren’t just nice-to-have, they’re a necessity.
Tomorrow morning when you get out of bed, stand up, and stretch with a big yawn, take a moment to appreciate how curious and quirky it is that you, out of all the animals on this planet, are the only one that walks around balanced on two stick-like legs all day long. It’s quite a deal we’ve made with mother nature, but stay mindful that it comes with a price.
Take care of your less than ideal bipedal compromises and make sure that, deep into old age, you’re still landing on your feet!
Patrick Reynolds // Kenzai Founder