Maintaining strength and mobility as we age

In the last column, we looked at areas of the body that often lose strength and mobility as we age. To maintain proper functioning, the two other areas to focus on include:

The ankles - Ankle rigidity can happen as a result of injury or other unforeseen conditions, but it most commonly occurs due to lack of daily physical activity. Here, lack of range of motion is seen when trying to move the toes toward the shins, known as Dorsiflexion. As we put one foot in front of the other during walking or climbing stairs, the ankles should freely move.

A simple self check: When standing you should be able to lift the toes upward and off the floor, or if sitting you should see the feet coming toward the shins. Lack of Dorsiflexion affects how we walk, our stability and balance, and can result in pain in the knees, shoulders, low back or neck.

Tip: To help improve range of motion, take a step forward and keep both feet flat on the floor. With feet in place, move the body in a forward motion, allowing the front leg knee to bend but keeping the back leg straight. This will engage both of the ankles and lengthen the calf muscles which in turn will help facilitate greater dorsiflexion. Do several slow repetitions on each leg without holding the stretch. These can typically be performed daily. There should be no pain with exercise. Before beginning any new exercise program, if you have any medical conditions, or experience discomfort with movement, consult with a professional to determine the problem.

The hips - The hips are weight bearing, and are capable of movement on three planes of motion. This includes actions such as moving the leg to the front, to the back and toward/away from the midline of the body. It is not uncommon for those with low back, knee, shoulder or other problem areas, to have hips that lack strength and mobility. Zoning in on one of these areas in hopes of fixing the issue often leads to poor results.

Power is generated through the hips and there are many muscles working together to allow for motion to occur. One of the most important is the gluteus maximus. When this muscle is working well, going up and down stairs, bending down to get something from under the sink, getting out of a car and pushing open a heavy door, become easier. To strengthen the gluteus maximus, squats are king. For beginners, using a chair to sit and stand can be a first step toward strengthening.

Tip: If the knees do not travel forward when sitting, this uses the Gluteus Maximus to a greater degree, rather than the quads (front of the thigh) doing most of the work. To test strength, stand in front of a chair with the back of knees touching the seat. Without allowing the knees to move forward, slowly sit. If you find you ‘plop’ when close to sitting, this is an indication of weak gluteus maximus.

Marjie Gilliam is an International Sports Sciences Master certified personal trainer and fitness consultant. She owns Custom Fitness Personal Training Services LLC. Send email to

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