A few years ago my mother woke up, got out of bed, took a few steps towards the bathroom, and then had a sudden, nearly incapacitating pain in her left hip that didn’t go away until she had a hip replacement months later. What happened? She hadn’t fallen, she just took a few steps. When she asked that question to her orthopedic surgeon, he gave her this advice, “Always stretch in bed before you stand up and walk.”
During the night, we sleep, mostly. Some, like me, awaken during the night and need to go to the bathroom at least once. Before I heard that doctor’s advice to my mom, I tried to stay as asleep as much as possible when I walked to the bathroom and did my business, as I wanted to be sure to be able to get back to sleep right away (which didn’t always work but that’s another story). Now I understand that our muscles are also sleeping during the night, and need to be awakened enough before we step onto our feet so that they can support the bones of our skeleton as we move into our day. In my mother’s case, her muscles in her legs were not “aroused” or engaged when she took those first steps and so her body weight caused enough pressure on the head of the femur (which had been weakened from natural aging) to damage its structure beyond repair.
There are many good reasons to stretch in bed at any age. It’s cozy, and a gentle way to wake up and greet the day. Stetching allows fluids between our bones and within our joints to move and soften the harder structures. Yawning increases breathing, moving oxygen into our lungs and throughout our body through the circulatory system. A few moments each day can prepare us for a healthy start. Animals do it: watch your dog or cat. Yogis do it. Babies do it. So, do what comes naturally, stretch in bed.
Dr. Betty Perkins-Carpenter, in her helpful book, How To Prevent Falls, gives Stretch in Bed as her Number 1 exercise. In our Agile Aging program, the Greet the Day / Body Yawn functions similarly, although from sitting and standing postures.
Awaken your muscle system, feel yourself alive and awakening inside your body, stretch each arm and leg in this direction and that. You don’t need to follow a certain exercise, just do what comes naturally, as long as you:
- Body Yawn, extending outwards like a Starfish through your arms, finger, legs, toes;
- Body Fold, fold both knees over your chest, wrap arms around and compress shins downwards as the lower spine lengthens;
- Round Ball, deepen the Body Fold into spinal roundness as knees curl towards forehead, using your arms to help;
- Single Leg Extension, holding one knee towards chest, extend the opposite leg long below you, alternate;
- Spiral, with balls of feet on bed and knees bent, allow the knees to slowly lower to one side then the other, slowly and gently; turn head and arms to the opposite side adds spaces to the spine spiral, again slowly.
Before you get out of bed. Every time.
© 2014 Valerie Baadh Garrett for Agile Aging LLC