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Fitness Over Time 

Submitted by Corey Vanderwouw, MPT, 12/16/2019

My mother Sharon grew up in upstate New York winters, where ice skating was a favorite pastime of hers. She skated her way through her youth and kept it up intermittently through her thirties. She is now 74.


This past summer when she was caring for my children, she decided to take them ice skating. Remembering how she had skated so well when she was younger, she stepped out onto the ice and immediately fell and broke her arm. When telling me the story afterward, she said that she didn’t even think twice about skating. She had clear memories of skating, but to her body, the ice was a surprise. Her body didn’t readily recall how to react to the feel of ice and the change in stability under her feet.

After years of not skating, however, her body lost the refined balance and coordination skills she had so carefully built. When she was on the ice, her brain couldn’t recall the motor patterns necessary to keep her balanced. The loss happened over time, outside of her awareness. Without performing balance-challenging activities during the time lapse, she had no awareness that her balance had diminished, which is a common experience with the passing of time.

The adeptness that we once so skillfully acquired during the practice of a sport or activity can diminish, even in the time between seasons. This is the reason for pre-season training for sports, and why marathoners train by a pre-planned routine that builds up toward each marathon. The specificity of sports training shows that we need to practice the precise skills that are specific to that sport, and that each sport and activity are different. Differences can be seen in, but not limited to, our ability to activate certain muscles, our muscular balance, strength, flexibility, the way we perceive our bodies in the environment, our eye-hand coordination and our own individual style of movement. There is also a philosophy of cross training, in which a person trains in various sports and activities concurrently in order to enhance strengths and skills that are not emphasized in their main sport.

Our bodies are made to reinforce themselves in the way that we already use them. There is an anatomical law called Wolf’s Law, which states that bones grow and remodel in response to the forces that are placed upon them. Therefore weight bearing exercises and resistance exercises that place force through our bones stimulate them to become stronger. In opposition, not enough exercise over time can lead to bone loss. Similarly, our muscles, tendons, ligaments and cardiovascular system all adapt and adjust upward or downward according to the level of demand upon them. Our muscles, tendons, ligaments and cardiovascular system adapt more quickly than our bones.

Right now, we are entering a new season. Our area’s recent shift from warm days to rain and snow has called for a start or re-start to many different activities. For outdoor enthusiasts, it’s brought in the season of winter sports. Skiing, sledding and snowshoeing seasons have begun! Fun lies ahead for the adventurers to return to these fun sports. However, it is beneficial to start with smaller, easier routines and to build up to your ideal performance over time. Walkers and hikers who keep up their activities outside will also experience changes with wet, slippery, muddy, snowy and icy surfaces, which require more physical work and balance (and safe shoes!).

If the changing season is more likely to halt your exercise, for instance if you prefer to exercise outside only in dry conditions, it’s an opportunity to try something new. There are local gyms, yoga and pilates studios to go for great workouts. Our area has many experienced and well-trained practitioners, who can help you pace your exercise routine so that it is enjoyable, feels good and guides you towards success. If you are injured or require specialized exercise prescription, you can see one of our area’s physical therapists. If you haven’t exercised in a while or have cardiovascular or other concerns, ask your doctor for their exercise recommendations.

And finally, you may find yourself as part of the strong group of New Year’s resolutioners who vow to start working out again, starting in January. January is known to be the month of greatest new memberships for this reason. An exercise commitment is an honorable pledge. If you’ve made this decision, consider starting slowly and building, and give your body time to adapt and become stronger rather than letting your motivation drive you into overworking yourself initially. Remember that improving your health includes kindness to yourself, and giving yourself a workout that feels good, one which you are happy to return to. With patience and care there is a world of opportunity to move better, live better.

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