Q. I have lost 35 pounds, but I have also lost muscle. Getting plenty of protein but no strength in legs. What can I do? Jean
Jean is a dear friend of mine. I met her in the first tai chi class I taught in 1995 and we hit it off. However, Jean gradually quit doing tai chi. In fact, she quit moving any more than was absolutely necessary. When we went to lunch, she would only go to restaurants where she could park at the door. Eventually she had knee replacement and didn’t work hard enough on PT and ended up with a knee that wouldn’t bend enough to walk normally down the stairs. Now she has lost weight–which is great–but she is doing nothing to build muscle. She said she didn’t understand why she was losing muscle because she was getting plenty of protein. She wanted to know how she could rebuild the strength in her leg muscles.
Jean lives in a two-story house, so I suggested she walk up and down the stairs v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y several times a day. She responded that she did go up and down the stairs–once down in the morning and once up at night. And, she added, “I do go very slowly but it hasn’t helped any.” I replied that going down the stairs slowly once a day would not build a lot of muscle strength, then I asked her if she was using both legs. She told me she would step down with her right foot, then bring her left foot down to the same stair because her knee would not bend. “That,” I said, “is not going to strengthen your legs.”
There are many gentle easy movements that could rebuild leg strength, however, as one of my teachers once said, “They don’t work if you don’t do them.” You can’t sit in the chair and wish your legs strong. You have to do the work!
If you want good motion now and as you continue aging, you need two things: water and movement. Sitting all day is not the way to lubricate your body. If you have an injury, you may need to rest your body, but if you find yourself sitting for hours at a time every day and your ability to move and even walk is gradually declining, get up and get moving! I move better and have stronger legs at 70 than I did at 40. I owe my moving ability to tai chi and qigong and to my stubborn nature.
I don’t have a perfect body or perfect health. In fact, I have had many health issues including multiple connective tissue disease, arthritis, Lyme, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, environmental illness and chemical sensitivities and more. But from the time I started doing tai chi–no matter how bad I felt or how much I hurt–I started improving my health. Not with a pill, but with movement. If you had told me thirty years ago that I would be teaching movement therapy at 70, I would have insisted you were out of your mind. When I was 39, a doctor told me to get a rocking chair and sit in it. Had I listened, I probably wouldn’t be alive today and if I were still living, I would probably not be mobile. I am thankful everyday for tai chi and qigong!
The reason I am sharing this with you is because I talk with so many people who are having motion and pain issues and invite them to a tai chi class. Almost without fail, they tell me that they can’t move good enough and/or their balance is not good enough or they are in too much pain. Duh, that is what tai chi is for! Tai Chi is famous for building lower body strength and endurance, and preventing falls. It can reduce arthritic pain up to 70+%!
Of course, it also improves most health conditions, gives the immune system a big boost, helps lessen depression and improves brain function. I can’t imagine why everyone isn’t doing tai chi instead of taking pills! In fact, if everyone did tai chi regularly, it would greatly lower health care costs. A recent study said that those who do qigong (too simply put, tai chi without stepping patterns) spend 83.4% less on healthcare than those who don’t. WOW! Why isn’t the health care industry writing prescriptions for Tai Chi instead of addictive pain pills? Guess what, the VA is! And some health care plans now pay for Tai Chi/Qigong classes. It is that beneficial. So in 2017, I think we should all make a “Moving Resolution”.
Last Last winter, I got a Fitbit and was shocked at how few steps I was taking on a hourly/daily basis. I made a concerted effort to move at least 250 steps an hour. That meant that when I sat down–like now–and started writing, once an hour I needed to get up and make a trip through my wild, wooded garden, around the pond and back. I live in a four-level house, so when the weather is bad, I just go up and down all my steps a few times.
One thing about using stairs for exercise: like Jean, go down the stairs very slowly, but unlike Jean, use both legs. When you step down slowly, you build more muscle than when you run down steps. The slower you go, the more muscle and strength you build in your legs. That’s why tai chi and qigong are so good for you–you move very slowly with a relaxed body, opening all joints including the spine. Furthermore, do not try to do all the bending in the knees. Relax the lower back, sink into the hip joints and feel them coordinating with the knees to control your step-downs. That will engage the big muscles of the legs.
Personally, I don’t like using machines for moving the body. I want to use movement methods which I control because I know how each slow movement feels to different areas of my body. Does it cause pain? Does it feel good? Does it cause tension? A machine just keeps doing what it is set to do but if I am feeling the reaction in my body, then I can adjust the movement to my comfort level which does not include pain! A machine cannot do that.
Another friend of mine recently went to an excellent physical therapist at UVA who told her that “motion is lotion.” I love that! It says it all. So for 2017, think about making a “Moving Resolution”. Get a Fitbit or use your smart phone to record steps and get moving so you can keep moving!!Important Note! The information in Wholistically Speaking is for educational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose and/or treat diseases. If you have a health problem, I highly recommend you consult a competent health practitioner and educate yourself before embarking on any course of treatment.