This months Blog has been inspired by our older generation of client. 15 years ago when I first became a Sports Therapist I couldn’t have envisioned taking so much joy from helping old dears be able to walk to the shops and back. Fundamentally if we want to move better, whether that’s sport or just well being, it’s the same piece of ‘kit’ no matter how old you are.
I like to teach our oldies about how to rediscover their bodies and feel better about their movement and well being. And they like to educate me about life. I’m not sure who learns most. But we certainly have fun along the way with many jokes usually at my expense!
So I’m going to share with you what I’ve learned from these wonderful sessions. Giving more people of advancing years inspiration and hope for the future. Quality of life can improve no matter how old we are. For those of us who still have a good few years before we hit retirement I’m hoping it this Blog will be inspiration on how to stay young at heart and live life to the full. Learning lessons from the old ones.
Age Is Just A Number
Yes we’ve got some whizzy tricks to help you feel and move better. But it’s all about what you do with it. It’s our older clients who come in that just have a certain ‘way’ about them that you know are going to, quite literally, run with what we are doing together.
How can I describe this? After 15 years in the trade I just know. But to try and put it into words. It’s a sparkle in the eye. It’s a zest for life. It’s a cheekiness. It’s a rudeness. It’s a determination. And pretty much across the board, it’s an ability to take the mick out me and also themselves. An ability to see joy in both the smaller things and bigger things in life.
Ignore What The Scans Say
The table the left here should be huge inspiration to us all. It certainly is to me. This is the third Blog that I’ve put it in! To give you an overview rather than diving into the numbers these are the results of a large imaging study that was aimed degeneration condition of the low back. The kind of degeneration of the body that is pretty much inevitable due to our constant fight with gravity.
The key thing here to note is that these people did not have symptoms! They had something to get the radiologists interested but no actual symptoms. So if you do have symptoms and you have one or more of these finding it makes you question is this really where the pain is coming from.
This pattern is repeated throughout the body with our clients who have confirmed conditions in shoulders, necks, knees, anywhere. We realign them, teach them how to calm their nervous system et voila, no pain. I talk in more details about this idea in my previous Blog: Can X-Ray or MRI Hinder Your Physio Treatment. It’s also why I questioned if I’d put myself under the knife for a joint replacement operation to: Would A Sports Therapist Get A Hip Or Knee Replacement?
Now I’m not saying all imaging is bad. Far from it. It can be a very useful to guide our treatment. For me it’s best using it to check what things aren’t. But it can be a bit of a distraction and something for people to fixate on. Live life as if you’ve never been scanned. There are no limitations – unless you have some metal in you, even then the limitation probably isn’t as bad as you fear. Look at Tiger Woods… he won The Masters with two of vertebrae bolted together!
Live And Die Wise
We are all slowly dying. From the moment we are born we are progressing towards our inevitable death. You may think that is morbid or bringing a downer on the whole thing but if you look at it from the right perspective it is immensely positive. With our impending death in mind it is so important to do all the things we want to now. Not put things off as if we’re going to live forever. As we get older this becomes increasingly pressing.
What do you want your legacy to be? What do you want people to remember you by? What do you want your impact on your family to be? If we approach life aware of our mortality then we have a more positive impact on the world we leave behind. These difficult ideas are discussed far more eloquently in the excellent book: Die Wise. It is a challenging read. Enjoy.
It’s All About Belief
Whatever you believe you’ll probably be right. If you believe you are too old to do something then you will be. If you believe you are too stiff and haggard to do something then you will be. If you believe you can, then you will. I’ve just finished watching this wonderful documentary which embodies much of what we see happening at the clinic:
Now if this is a bit woo woo for you I will forgive you. Years ago I would have a agreed with you. But when you consistently see evidence of amazing things happening with our day to day work here at the clinic you have to start believing it yourself.
If we really want to go for it spiritually we could talk ‘Higher Purpose.’ For those believers out there it requires no further explanation. For those cynics out there just think about a time in your life when you were super motivated. You had a goal. A reason to be. A reason to be motivated. To achieve and get stuff done. Leave your own special mark on the world.
You can make your higher purpose as spiritual or nonspiritual as you like. Your purpose might be to attain transcendental enlightenment. Or it might be to be able to get to shops so you remain independent. It might be to look after yourself well enough so you can continue to keep up with the kids or the grand kids. Simply put when we have a purpose we achieve. If there is no purpose, there is no point. Depression and physical dysfunction follow.
You Can Always Heal
Wow! Those last two were a bit heavy. Lets bring it up a bit. It doesn’t matter how old you are you will always heal. I find a lot of comfort in that. If you’re over 100 years old and you break a leg or pull a muscle it will still heal. There seems to be this impression that one fall and you’re out as you get old.
So many people fear a fall as they get older. I think a lot of it stems from this unnecessary ‘brittle bone’ mantra that seems prevalent in the Western World. Osteoporosis, the technical term for ‘brittle bone’ disease really isn’t the end of the world. The osteoporosis markers are all related to bone density. The bone density baseline is that of an average 30 year old woman. To me it stands to reason that when you get to 70 or 80 your bones won’t be as dense as they were when you were in your prime.
If you do have osteoporosis it doesn’t mean every time you fall over you will break something. Yes it means you are more likely to break something. But it’s not like old people are suddenly made of glass. I’ve treated too many oldies. They are beautifully robust. And pretty stubborn and determined to boot! Remember, if you do take a fall, you will heal.
I believe that the fear of falling is a significant factor in that old person stoop that we all want to try to avoid. That and a reduction in sensation in the feet – we can help with that too by the way. Those walking around less in fear are actually less likely to fall over as their muscles are working better and give them better balance. Which leads me nicely to…
Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway
In the immortal words of the classic self help book that condensed a whole book into the title: Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway. It’s ok to have fear. It’s a very useful emotion alerting us to danger. But it’s when we live in fear, or to a lesser extent become overly fearful, this leads to tension. Physical and emotional. If we address the fear and give you more confidence we improve your function and reduce your pain.
Chin Up Old Bean!
As we’ve mentioned it’s the chin forward posture that commonly thwarts us as we get older. There is a school of though that suggests it’s the head coming forward for the grim reapers blade. A bit morbid perhaps, even for me. A more bio-mechanical explanation maybe the reduction of sensation in your feet as you get older. The feet are hugely important in reporting back to the rest of the body what the ground feels like and what the rest of our body needs to do about it. When this is diminished we jut our head forwards to feel closer to the ground in an attempt to feel safer. Let’s just say this isn’t very efficient.
What to do? I like the idea from Pilates whereby you walk as if you are being pulled up by the top of your head by a piece of string. We’d recommend also having the muscles that pull your head, and actually whole body forward, released off. Now if only we knew a good Sports Therapy clinic that could do such a thing! As a curve ball which I’m hoping you may not have considered before is look after your feet. Give them a rub down, get any hard skin or callouses dealt with. Give them a regular rub down. The more evenly you can put weight through your feet, the better you feel them, the better your posture. All the way up to the top of your head.
Tough As Old Boots
Many people use this expression in a derogatory way. I mean this hugely respectfully and with a element of jealousy. Older people have quite literally lived through a lot. They know how to do this living lark. They, on the whole, have been quite good at it for many years. This is a hugely positive trait. But as with many things in life our strengths can become our weaknesses. The trick is to find that balance. Stick to your guns when you need to. But don’t afraid to be wrong, be questioned or try new things.
From a therapeutic perspective I find that many therapists seem scared to touch older people. Having been through the therapy education system I can understand why. It’s very much ‘what if…’ mentality. A very fearful mindset. I have too much respect for older people to pussy foot around them. I’m not for one second recommending being gung-ho with treatment. But if you apply some basic common sense they can treated just as any other person. By the time many of my older clients get to me they’ve had every conceivable test done to them so we know what we are and what we’re not dealing with.
Do Something Different
Let us all get old disgracefully rather than grumpy and long in the tooth. Consistently my older clients who fair better physically and emotionally are open minded and up for new challenges. What could these new challenges be? Dancing? Learning a new language? Certainly there are plenty of studies to suggest dancing and learning languages are great for our mental health and good for preventing conditions such as Alzheimer’s.
Keep our relationships fresh. Old ones and new ones. Let’s look to grow together. Look to meet more people. Especially if all your old friends are dying around you! There needs to be a version of Tinder for oldies. I’m not talking sexual relationships here – so perhaps very much not Tinder. But ads like… 80 year old lady looking for similar aged companion to play gentle game of tennis or just to meet up for a coffee and biscuit. Or 75 year old widower looking for opportunity to spend inspiring time around children similar age to his grandchildren who live 4 hours away.
I have no expectation such an app could or would work but hopefully you get what I’m trying to say. As we get older (and this counts I think from any age) continue to do things that scare you. You’ll meet new people, find out more about yourself and keep that joie de vie. If meeting new people scares you… even better. Get involved. If base jumping scares you… maybe not. (Having mentioned base jumping I had to look it up – the World Record for the oldest base jumper is 84. I currently have a couple of clients who are 82 years young I think next session we’ll step up our rehab…)
So there you have my ramblings on how to live and die well. It has come from the joy of working with our older generation of clients and seeing the difference between those who fare well. And those that fare less well. The more of above traits we can display the more fun old age will be for us all. Whether that’s right now or deep into the future.
This has been a hugely personal piece for me and I’d love if you could share my vision of hope for aging for all. If you could share on whatever platform you are reading this on it would be hugely appreciated. Maybe send it to someone you know who is struggling as they get old. Or perhaps even someone who is old before their time and needs a pep up and some hope for the future.
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This article first appeared on our Brighton site.