From the Ground Up

In all the exercise focus on heart health, other parts of the body are largely forgotten. True, if your heart stops for very long, you're dead. But if your ankles and feet don't function well, you might as well be dead because you're going to be limited in what you can do and lose your independence much earlier.

Most TOJs are a little ahead of their sedentary peers, but depending on the type and frequency of the exercise they do, their lead might not be as large you might think. Hours running or riding a bike or hitting the weight room don't guarantee strong, responsive ankles and feet. What good is a super strong heart in a rickety body?

Remember that all your physical power starts from the ground up with the action of your feet and ankles. They propel you forward, keep you level, and help protect from shocks, like when you recover from tripping on a rock instead of falling.  

If you've survived to TOJ-dom, through all those years the 26 bones, 33 joints, and more than 100 muscles in each foot/ankle have done their job. You might have some old damage, but you're still pretty mobile.  However, around age 50, the muscles, ligaments, and tendons inevitably start to lose some of their youthful elasticity. You see downward progression when you see frail people take flat footed baby steps and shuffle their feet to turn around. The end point of this progression is loss of balance and falls.

To maintain mobility, you must train to strengthen the weakest links, and as you age you can't take any of your links for granted. A shortcoming with TOJs is we can be set in our ways and do only the exercises we prefer and avoid those we could use, but may not enjoy that much - like those specifically for the feet and ankles. But the more I learn about aging, I realize how important it is to work on your whole body, including your ankles and feet.

Here are some excellent ankle and foot exercises to incorporate a couple times a week into your exercise routine.  

When you're just hanging around your house chatting or watching TV, take your shoes off and slowly rock back and forth up onto your toes then back onto your heels. With your feet directly beneath you a few inches apart, circle your knees so you roll onto the outside and inside edges of your feet. When you get proficient at this, do it on an unstable surface like a pillow or piece of foam rubber.

Do some very light jumps and short hops where you spring off your toes and gently come down on your full foot. When you get proficient at this, jump and hop a little higher and further and faster.

Just balance on one foot for 30 seconds, then the other. Repeat. Progress to 45 seconds, then 1 minute.

Balance, strength and power come from the ground up.

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