Sometimes it’s about you

I’ve written a few posts lately relating housework to the proverb, ‘a stitch in time, saves nine’. This time I want to talk about something far more important than a tidy house. This time it’s about you. It’s all about bending your knees!

Bend your knees not your back

Let me tell you why. Paul and I both do volunteer work at an Aged Care Facility. Most of the residents are elderly, and most have some form of dementia. Some though are mentally ok, but their physical body has let them down. A few residents have lost so much muscle strength in their legs that the simple act of standing up from a chair is so difficult they can no longer realistically live alone. The physiotherapists do their best to help them develop some strength in their legs, but clearly for most of them it’s too late. We saw the same thing with Paul’s dad, he struggled to stand up from a chair, and in the last few months of his life this led to him having to go into care. My own mum couldn’t get out of bed unassisted – she didn’t have any signs of dementia, yet she could no longer live alone.

If you’re like me, you hope that if you’re lucky enough to reach old age, one day you’re going to nod off to sleep in your big easy chair, or your comfortable bed and you’re not going to wake up. Until that day comes, we’ll be hoping that we can still cope in our own homes, able to get ourselves out of bed in the mornings, able to dress ourselves, and able to get ourselves to and from the toilet when necessary. From what I’ve witnessed if you, or I, are going to have any chance of living in our own homes unaided for the rest of a long life one thing we’re going to need to do is to maintain our leg strength.

Of course there’s other health issues factors  that may also mean an aged care facility is unavoidable in later life. There are things you can do to help prevent some things, but not all things. Today I want to talk about the steps you can  take to enable you to keep standing on your own two feet, hopefully in your own home and for the rest of your life.

From my observations it’s clear all of the people we see who can no longer get themselves out of a chair, could no doubt manage very well without giving it a seconds thought when they were my age. Their ability didn’t just disappear over night. Rather,  they no doubt did what I’ve started doing in recent years – bending their back rather than their legs, and the loss of leg strength crept up gradually over many, many years.

We all know we need to bend our knees rather than our back when lifting
It doesn’t finish there though – we need to bend our knees as much as we reasonably canto maintain good leg strength

It was only by helping with the Gentle Gym in the Care Facility that I became aware of what I’d started doing, and consequently I’ve noticed the effect it’s having on me. My legs have definitely been losing their strength in recent years. If I keep bending my back rather than my knees, in 10, or 20 years time, I too won’t be able to stand up unaided from a chair, or worse – the toilet.

As a consequence I’ve  started to look for excuses to bend my knees, not just when lifting something either.

Look for excuses to bend your knees

I bend at the knees to pick up my shoes, I bend at the knees to load the bottom drawer of the dishwasher. I bend my knees to remove an item of washing from the basket to hang on the line, and I bend at the knees to pull a weed from the garden. I used to bend at the waist to put Mr Tilly’s lead on him, now I bend at the knees, keeping my back straight.

I even bend my knees to blow my nose

I try to remember to bend my knees when I’m brushing my teeth. Of course I don’t need to bend at all to brush my teeth, but I figure it’s a good excuse to add a bit of extra strength to my legs. As well as trying to add incidental leg strengthening in to my daily routine, I’m finding a few deliberate squats help too.

A few deliberate exercises help

I need to keep it up. This is one ‘stitch in time’ practice, that if I keep up, will have the potential to keep me living independently (all other mishaps aside) for the rest of my life. Once people have grown old and frail, and their legs have become so weak they can’t push themselves into a standing position it’s an almost impossible task to recover what’s been lost. If you don’t already bend at the knees, why not start today. Don’t wait until it’s to late!

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26 thoughts on “Sometimes it’s about you

  1. What a very important message Chris and something I must admit I’ve been paying particular attention to this past year. I have loads of steps in my house so I have plenty of opportunities to bend my knees. Still it’s amazing sometimes how we forget doing certain chores. Thanks for the reminders. Brushing my teeth tonight might be interesting! 😁

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  2. Everything becomes so hard to fix if you develop a problem when you get older. Preventing the problems in the first place seems doubly important. Is there anything in particular you do for your knees? Any exercises to strengthen them?

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  3. Such great advice Chris, knees are a tricky issue at any age. Once you’ve got a knee problem its almost impossible to get it sorted. We always try and look after our knees when we’re working, so important.

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  4. It is sad Sam, but at the same time it’s rewarding. Not many Care facilities here have volunteers, as insurances etc still have to paid for us. The place where we volunteer has almost as many volunteers as there are residents, and we’re not allowed to do a paid persons job. This means everything we do is purely life enhancing for the residents. We don’t do any of the dressing, changing or feeding etc, but we take them for walks to the beach or around the gardens, we pick and arrange flowers, we play board games or cards with them, and we help the physio in the Gentle Gym classes which enables more people to attend. I love that we make a difference to their lives.

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  5. There’s so many things we need to be doing daily to slow the decline Sam. From what I can see in the Care home though it’s actually loss of leg strength, or dementia that lands them in care. It’s so sad to see.

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  6. You’re so right with this advice Chris. Core strength and general fitness does help, but as you say, just thinking about how you move, before rushing into bends and lifting is key.

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  7. I’m really enjoying it and can see how it will be beneficial. I’ve been a regular gym attendee for many years and have done more squats and lunges than I could count, so leg strength isn’t an issue. I think though the stretches will be what I enjoy most.

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  8. Mine is getting Alzheimer’s, but mobility would be close behind. The volunteer work is quite rewarding, and serves as a great reminder that if I don’t use it, I just must lose it – mind and body.

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  9. We see the weak and wasted muscles taken the toll on the oldies every week. It’s heartbreaking, and for them there’s little can be done now. It’s to late. Sometimes I think if we had all kept wearing mini skirts we’d have been bending down properly and we’d have good back and leg strength. There’s no way we’d be bending our backs in a mini skirt, at least not if anyone was behind us. Lol!

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  10. That adage was one of the first ones I learnt. I had a small book of proverbs I used to read over and over – for want of other reading material. You are bang on about taking care of your back. Funny you mention this, as I have been trying to do the same thing lately, Bend with the knees for simple tasks around the house. We always bend with the knees for heavy lifting but it is those incidental movements that can cumulate in a back injury. All of us spend too much time sitting down these days, so our quads need loads of practice. I have to be careful of knee injuries, though. When I started doing lots of squats after my second child, my knee complained mercilessly, so a gradual program is advised. Yoga ( not bikram) is wonderful exercise for one’s knees too. Good on you for highlighting this important issue. Mobility should never be taken for granted.

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  11. Definitely, yoga stretches, walking, and strength training – and of course brain training too. In the Gentle Gym for the elderly the physio takes them through a series of exercises and stretches to help with all manner of things including things we take for granted like the ability to brush your own hair. I find the saddest thing though is when they just can’t get themselves out of a chair.

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  12. I’ve been sensitive to this one for a long time. I too saw it happen to my mother. it’s definitely a case of use it or lose it.

    I would also add stretching into this mix. The loss of flexibility – including in the feet – causes a lot of problems for seniors.

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  13. I’ve lost a lot of my leg strength in recent years, but it’s only by observing the oldies in the care facility that I’ve become aware of what the consequences could end up being. I’ll have to have a look at what the chair pose in, and take it on board.

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  14. Good post and in yoga we do “chair pose” which is also called intense – and this helps develop the core (knees to shoulders) – which I think is what all the knee bending will do that you suggest –
    I did not realize how often we do bend out backs! And will be alert to this going forward – thx

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