Use it or Lose It
The law of inertia, simply stated, says that an object at rest stays at rest, and an object in motion stays in motion. This basic law of physics applies to humans and our ability to continue to move our bodies throughout life. Throughout our childhoods, we are constantly in motion, from our first steps to hours of play with our neighborhood friends. Instinctively, our bodies want to move and become strong, flexible, and balanced to negotiate the environment around us. As we grow older and our responsibilities increase, our opportunities to move decline; many of us spend our days tethered to a desk or traveling. As we stay at rest, our bodies begin to deteriorate, and breaking free of the inertia in order to move again becomes increasingly more difficult.
Historically, our jobs required us to squat, bend, lunge, push, pull, twist, and walk long distances daily, helping us maintain our health, strength, balance, motor skills, and all systems of the body. Our activities and how we used our bodies began to change with the Industrial Revolution. As machines were developed to make life easier and more efficient, our physical labor decreased and we became a more sedentary society.
When we are sedentary and don’t move our muscles and joints, we fall prey to the “Tin Man (or Woman) Effect” in which we freeze up and can’t move, just like the character from The Wizard of Oz. In our sedentary lifestyles, our muscles and joints become weak and sore, making it difficult to move about easily. We cannot afford to use a lack of time and fatigue as excuses to keep us from exercising, because as the saying goes, if we don’t “use it,” we “lose it” and become the Tin Man (without the storybook ending).
Statistics show there is a growing population of people over the age of 15 who are “insufficiently active,” and Americans have the greatest prevalence of inactivity. A 2008 survey from the Centers for Disease Control found that 25% of adults did no physical activity during their free time. This lack of activity increases risks for weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, cognitive decline, and more. Lack of physical activity also leads to loss of lean muscle mass and affects daily living activities, balance, and flexibility; the longer we stay inactive, the more difficult it becomes to get going again.
According the Arthritis Foundation, joint pain is not an inevitable part of aging but a combination of preventable factors. Being active is the best method to treat arthritis. Although walking is a good start to getting physically active, we want to include activities that will increase our range of motion, strengthen the muscles around joints, maintain bone strength, build endurance, and improve balance. Lack of exercise can make your joints painful to move and stiffer; exercise should be done daily to help avoid the “Tin Man Effect.”
If you have not been active in quite a while, it is important to ease into activity slowly. Engaging in a variety of activities will work different muscles and systems of the body to improve overall health and mobility. Begin with low-impact activities like rowing, recumbent biking, or using an elliptical machine. Warm up the joints first by beginning with range-of-motion exercises for 10 minutes before doing aerobics or strength training. Vary your workouts to include range-of-motion exercises, aerobics, strengthening and stretching. Consider participating in yoga, Tai Chi, Zumba or strengthen-and-tone classes. It is never too late to get your body moving and keep it moving; the long-term benefits are worth the effort as we age. So get out there and start using it before it’s lost!