Grip Strength in Older Adults

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I read a PubMed article recently about grip strength as an indicator of health related quality of life in old age and it got me thinking about what we are lacking or sidestepping in our daily lives that means we don’t achieve meaningful grip strength via our normal everyday movements and habits.

The article looked at quality of life in men and women ages 60-94 years old and used the measurement of grip strength to determine overall muscle strength and function. High grip strength is strongly associated with preserved mobility, higher activities of daily living and decreased disability and although it was outlining grip strength as an indicator of ‘general’ health (as opposed to isolationist strength purely at the wrist) there are many habits and environmental factors that rob us of this type of daily movement that would otherwise improve this outcome.

Here’s a list of 5 examples that I came up with to demonstrate ways in which we deny ourselves of those daily ‘movement vitamins’:

  • Coffee grinder – admittedly this is quite hard work but you will be rewarded with not just coffee but a better quality of life….and some would even argue better coffee!
  • Washing machine – imagine all the wringing and squeezing that went on before washing machines, perhaps once or twice a week skip the spin cycle and try and wring out the excess water.
  • Wheelie suitcase – do you wheel your suitcase? Does it glide smoothly across the airport floor?! Think about all that grip work and corresponding arm and core effort if you were to carry it. Not quite as comfortable but perhaps more so than general physical decline!!
  • Car key automatic lock – this seems quite petty but just on principle the price of convenience is robbing us from basic wrist turning actions and even extra movement around the car to lock the doors in the name of convenience.
  • Automatic can opener – another wrist strength robbing device!

To conclude, even though the study just involved a small amount of participants and also incorporated the social aspect of ageing into the equation it makes a good example of how a few simple steps on a daily basis and a bit more awareness can contribute to a healthier outlook.

Grip Strength as an Indicator of Health-Related Quality of Life in Old Age. by Musalek and Kirchengast

Photo by Jeremy Yap on Unsplash

……And Breeeeeeathe!!

Different Pilates teachers put different amounts of focus on the breath  & whilst it can add to the seemingly endless checklist of things you are trying to get right in an exercise. For me, it is key to the success of any core restoration & here’s why.

Once you understand the body’s breathing apparatus & functionality it becomes quite clear that we get an intrinsic core contraction (tensioning) with each exhale & an intrinsic expansion (or opening) with each inhale so only by harnessing this inherent bodily function will we truly get the core working optimally. Working against this pattern will help facilitate back pain, exacerbate a diastasis recti & generally leave you vulnerable to injury.

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But as well as providing an intrinsic support system for the body, breathing correctly also helps reduce stress – controlled breathing can cause beneficial physiological changes that include:

  • lowered blood pressure & heart rate
  • reduced levels of stress hormones in the blood
  • reduced lactic acid build-up in muscle tissue
  • balanced levels of oxygen & carbon dioxide in the blood
  • improved immune system functioning
  • increased physical energy
  • increased feelings of calm & wellbeing.

Conversely when a person is under stress, their breathing pattern changes. Typically, an anxious person takes small, shallow breaths, using their shoulders rather than their diaphragm to move air in & out of their lungs. This style of breathing disrupts the balance of gases in the body. Shallow over-breathing, or hyperventilation, can prolong feelings of anxiety by making the physical symptoms of stress worse as well as facilitate adaptively shortened muscles along the neck & shoulders.

Try practising the breathing exercise described above whilst lying on your back in a quiet area – then begin to introduce some gentle core exercises as you do so & see how well incorporating the breath helps engage the whole core system.

5 Core Exercises To Practice

Regular conditioning of your core with proper muscle activation is key to maintaining good alignment & preventing back, neck & shoulder pain. This post will be a reminder for some of the exercises I teach in the classes as well as add a bit of variety for home practice.

post2First make sure you create space & time to focus on your technique – you will need to use your brain to find the right muscles (!) – predominately the co-contraction between transversus abdominis (TVA), pelvic floor & multifidus AS YOU EXHALE!

Try this technique to engage with your TVA:

Lie on your back with your spine in a neutral posture (slight curve in lower back). Take a breath in & as you exhale think about lifting your lower tummy up (not sucking in) & *gently* drawing your tummy button toward your spine – you should not feel any movement of your hips, pelvis or spine & you can feel the TVA activate by placing your fingers on the inside of your hip bones. It should feel like a deep tension not so much that it pushes your fingers away.

Try holding this contraction for 3-5 seconds & then release – breathe throughout this exercise! Repeat & hold for 3 sets of 10 repetitions 3-4 x a day.

Once you’ve mastered this you can apply it to all movements/exercises that involve any level of effort. Just remember to go with the breath pattern always exhaling on exertion to benefit from the intrinsic TVA contraction, tensioning your abdominals & lower back muscles.

So here are 5 exercises to practice whilst integrating TVA & pelvic floor activation through different planes of movement:

1. Single leg extensions: Lying with your spine in neutral (slight curve in lower back) ‘bolt’ your tailbone down as you lift knees up to 90 degree. Moving with the breath exhale as you drop one toe to the floor. Repeat, alternating legs for 10-20 x as along as you have good control with no bulging/doming abs.

2. Ball roll outs: From kneeling with shoulder ‘set’ roll forward until you feel the hips open at the front. Make sure you engage your core (as above) to keep the spine in neutral. Repeat 10-20 reps as along as you have good control with no bulging/doming abs.

3. Squats: Inhale as you go down & exhale to go up, move with the breath. Try to keep your spine neutral by untucking your pelvis an& make sure your knees don’t extend over your toes. Repeat…all day long!!

4. Knee lifts: From all 4’s with shoulder set exhale as you engage core & hover the knees. Repeat 10-20 x

5. Side Lift: Assume the position in last pic, inhale & prep core then exhale to lift the top hip up. Try to keep the supporting elbow under your shoulder (mine’s sliiiiiiiightly forward!) Repeat 10-20 x both sides.

Remember you don’t need to do specific ‘ab’ exercises – rather learn to & actually use your core muscles throughout your daily activities. Crunches will merely retard the body’s correct muscle balance.