If you were conscious in the late 80’s and through the 90’s like me, you’ll remember the commercial and many parodies from the line, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.” It turns out the maker of Life Alert was ahead of the game in predicting someone’s ability to survive based on whether they can get up or not.
A study back in 2012, tracked 2002 adults aged 51-80 and graded their ability to go from standing to sitting and back to standing. From standing to sitting, you can earn 5 points. From sitting to standing, you can earn another 5 points. The trick is that you can’t use your hands, knees, or any other appendage to assist your movement or balance. If you do, you lose one point each time you need an assist. If you wobble a bit and lose balance, that deducts 0.5 points.
Out of the 2,002 people studied, they found that for every point you lost, that translated into a 21% increase chance of death in the next 6 years. They do use the term ‘all cause mortality’ so that can be misleading. All cause mortality lumps any cause of death like lighting strikes, snake bites, and terrorist attacks in the same group as something more likely for this population like a heart attack, cancer, iatrogenic causes (doctor caused) or just dying of old age. But maybe if these people were more agile, they could escape the snake, fight the terrorists, and tell their doctor where to stick it.
It’s a very simple test and you can do it at home.
1. Stand in comfortable clothes in your bare feet, with clear space around you.
2. Without leaning on anything, lower yourself to a sitting position on the floor.
3. Now stand back up, trying not to use your hands, knees, forearms or sides of your legs.
Any time you use an assist, take a point away. If you’re in the standing position and place a hand on your knee (-1 point), drop to the other knee (-1 point), put your hand on the floor (-1 point), and brace with the side of your leg (-1 point) before coming to a sitting position, you scored 1 point out of 5. Coming up, you put both hands on the floor (-2 points) and put a knee on the floor to position the other foot (-1 point) before standing fully upright, you just scored 2 points out of 5 for a grand total of 3 points out of 10. That should freak you out a bit.
The beauty is that you can use this as a baseline and improve on it. How do you improve it? Practice standing, sitting on the floor, and standing back up. Why do people lose their agility, balance, and strength as they age? Because they don’t practice it, it’s not just because they are ‘getting older.’ We now live in a society where the average adult sits 60% of the day and spends 5 hours in front of a screen, whether TV or computer. I can’t tell you how many people have told me that their doctors told them not to do squats because it was bad for their knees or hips.
I always ask, how do you sit in a chair or on the toilette? That’s a squat. The cliche, ‘use it or you lose it’ is basic physiology. Start using your joins in their full range of motion. This isn’t only necessary for your joint health but for your brain and nervous system. When you start favoring and limiting certain motions, this diminishes receptors to the brain called mechanoreceptors. Mechanoreceptors will inhibit pain signals within the spinal cord before those signals get to the brain and compute it as pain. Movement is the safest pain reliever and analgesic on the planet. Pain is a perception in the brain.
Movement also stimulates the cerebellum. For the longest time, the cerebellum was thought to only deal with balance and coordination but the role of the cerebellum is much more vast. It helps coordinate your visceral function, like digestion, thyroid, and your colon via the Vagus nerve. It helps coordinate concentration, memory, and learning at the hippocampus. It inhibits stress in the amygdala. And it triggers the left pre-frontal cortex, the side that initiates thoughts of love, kindness, patience, and gratitude.
Movement is life. And now it’s been proven that the worse your ability to move, the worse your ability to survive. Don’t exercise for weight loss or calorie maintenance, you’ll be frustrated. Exercise because it’s a required nutrient for your body to express all functions. Without it, you are literally starving yourself.