The Immobility Cycle

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By Katy Bowman, M.S.

The longer we’ve been inactive, the less all our parts move, and the more we start doing things in our life that repeat the cycle. For example, sitting for long portions of each day for school and then work may have left the muscles in your legs weak, the joints in your knees and hips tight. When putting on a shoe every morning becomes a challenge—which is really another way of saying that moving in a particular way has become a challenge—we start opting for shoes that are easier to put on.

Shoes that require less hip and knee use are typically slip-ons, shoes that you can just poke your feet into. But here’s the thing: Slip-on shoes could just as easily be called slip-OFF shoes, which is why, when you wear them, you have to clench your toes and stiffen the muscles in your feet and ankles just to keep them on. Stiff feet are weak feet—feet that aren’t able to spread out into a wider, more stable base while you’re walking and can’t sense your environment and respond quickly.

While slippers and slide-on shoes are certainly a convenient way to address one consequence of stiff hips (i.e., difficulty putting on shoes), a “big picture” approach would be to work towards better hip mobility so that you don’t end up adding “tight feet” and “decreased balance” to what started as just a hip issue.

The Importance of Reaching Your Toes

The shoes you choose to wear could be increasing your risk of falling. In one study researchers found that the footwear most often worn at the time of a fall-related hip fracture were shoes that didn’t attach properly to the foot, like slippers or slip-ons (Sherrington and Menz 2003). Slip-on footwear often appeals to goldeners because it takes less effort (read: I don’t have to bend over) to get them on.

If you’re having trouble reaching down to put on or tie up footwear, try this movement. Lie on your back (doing this each morning before you get out of bed is a great idea) and, maintaining a relaxed breath, bring one knee toward your chest.

Can you reach your foot with one hand? Can you grab that foot with both hands at the same time? Try the other side. Work up to being able to hold each foot in both hands in this position for one minute. 

Having enough mobility to reach our feet is crucial. This not only prevents the progression to slide-on-only footwear, but also enables other aspects of foot care, like toenail maintenance, splinter removal, and callus care—all extremely important for all of us, including goldeners!

Part biomechanist, part science communicator, and full-time mover, Katy Bowman has educated hundreds of thousands of people on the role movement plays in the body and in the world. Blending a scientific approach with straight talk about sensible, whole-life movement solutions, her website and award-winning podcast, Katy Says, reach hundreds of thousands of people every month, and thousands have taken her live classes.

Her books, the bestselling “Dynamic Aging” (2016), “Simple Steps to Foot Pain Relief” (2016), “Diastasis Recti” (2016), “Don’t Just Sit There” (2015), “Whole Body Barefoot” (2015), “Alignment Matters” (2013), and “Every Woman’s Guide to Foot Pain Relief” (2011), have been critically acclaimed and translated worldwide.

Passionate about human movement outside of exercise, Katy volunteers her time to support the larger reintegration of movement into human lives by providing movement courses across widely varying demographics and working with non-profits promoting nature education. She also directs and teaches at the Nutritious Movement Center Northwest in Washington state, travels the globe to teach Nutritious Movement courses in person, and spends as much time outside as possible with her husband and children.

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