Toe Separators and Other Hacks to Age Less

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The signals of aging are weak but persistent. To be prepared for creeping changes, we need to tune in to the subtleties of how our bodies are aging and respond with a targeted strategy. Developing an awareness can head off aging issues and help you keep a youthful edge.

My tactics are simple, straightforward and free.  Many times, I think to myself, this is an investment in a healthy future that doesn’t cost anything, so why WOULDN’T I do it?

1) Run/walk/climb stairs:  The only equipment you need is a good pair of shoes and you’re ready to go.  Running is an important part of my life. It’s not so much that I love the act of running as I love what it does for me – the health benefits of building bone, strengthening my heart, clearing my arteries, keeping my brain sharp – and the lifestyle benefits of staying fit for travel, for building stamina, for climbing up to the top of perched villages or the steep escalators of the Q train!

However, running is not for everyone.  Walking at a brisk pace is also one of the healthiest activities you can do for physical fitness and well-being.  Adding stairs or inclines to your route boosts the benefits to your aerobic capacity, bone density and leg strength. (Read more about running here.)

2) Add intervals of faster pace:  Adding high intensity intervals or “bursts” to any cardio activity – walking, running, swimming, cycling – improves the results of your workout.  If you are doing the same kind of steady pace cardio routine over and over, say walking or jogging for 30 minutes, your body will stop improving because it has adapted to that level of exercise.  Adding intervals jolts your body out of complacency by stimulating all physiological systems.

Starting at your individual level of intensity, create your own intervals.  I simply use landmarks along my jogging path such as mailboxes, street signs, lamp posts etc. to mark my burst and recovery intervals. (Read more about burst training here.)

3) Grab a buddy:  There are absolutely times when I just don’t feel like going out for a run! A foggy, overcast morning can put a damper on my energy level, and tempt me to stay in bed with a book.  But if my husband and I agree to leave together, we go!  This works for us because we run separately at different paces, and just support each other to get out the door.

A well-matched buddy can be a tremendous support.  If you are in the market to find an ideal partner, however, know that all workout partners aren’t created equal. A partner who doesn’t show up, complains nonstop, or wants to quit early and get ice cream won’t help you reach your fitness goals. (Read more about partners here.)

4) Use your muscles consciously:  Stand up straight, sit without support, use core muscles to support your lower back and biceps to lift and carry, your glutes to squat down to the floor.

Train yourself to use proper body mechanics as you move throughout the day, protecting your joints as your muscles do the work. “Zip up” your abs for core stability. Perfect the form for a proper squat, a hip hinge, a stationary lunge, a “log roll.” Learn how to find neutral spine alignment in sitting, how to stabilize your shoulder blades, how to reverse “tech neck.” (Read more here.)

5) Strengthen your weaker side:  Balance exercises are a good way to spot discrepancies in leg strength. Personally, doing a stork stance made me aware that my left leg was considerably stronger and more stable than my right.  This develops from a lifetime of unconsciously favoring my left leg, continuously strengthening it by leading with it and depending on it.  So now I have added unilateral strength training exercises for the large gluteal muscles, performing more repetitions and sets on the right side in the hope of balancing out the difference in strength and to improve my overall balance.

6) Stretch every day: Oh, the joy of stretching! Just a few minutes of daily stretching helps maintain flexibility, keeps the muscles supple and counteracts the wear and tear of everyday life, allowing you to maintain a youthful appearance and active lifestyle.  By enhancing your mobility, stretching increases your efficiency in all activities so that they require less effort and leave you feeling less tired.

The constant downward pull of gravity and gradual dehydration of the body’s tissues cause us to shrink over time.  Muscles, tendons and ligaments naturally tighten with age, but stretching can help by lengthening them. To avoid tendon ruptures, muscle tears and painful joint0s from exercise, use gentle, sustained stretches during and after your workout. (Read more on stretching here.)

7) Use toe separators: Here is a simple tip that has had a big impact on my ability to continue to function at a high level of activity while getting older. The bones between the toes on one foot started rubbing against each other in the most painful way. The pain accompanied every step I took - from getting out of bed in the morning, to walking throughout the day, to jogging for exercise. I tried gel pads, which do work, but I figured there had to be a more natural remedy.

I thought about the toe separators that my yoga instructor gave me a few years ago. It made sense that as the alignment of my toes was gradually changing, it caused this problem.  So, every day now I wear the separators for 20 minutes or more, to increase the space and ensure that the toes stay aligned properly.

This was an eye-opener for me and inspired the idea for this post. If you become aware of small physical changes that are beginning to limit your ability to move, commit to the practice of self-care by investing in daily routines that keep your world open and available to you.

© Copyright – Joan L. Pagano.  All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

For expert guidance on strength training techniques, step by step photos depicting how to perform the exercises and a selection of well-rounded workouts please check out Joan’s book Strength Training Exercises for Women here.