Stretching the limits of lifelong mobility from sidewalks to Olympic tracks
When former Olympian Jeanne Golay recalls her racing days, her emphasis isn’t just on winning championships or representing her country in the Barcelona and Atlanta Olympics. For Golay, the daily commitment to movement was and remains her secret weapon.
“I aim for at least an hour of exercise per day, preferably biking,” Golay said. “A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself, ‘Can I accomplish this task on a bike?’ If the answer is yes, then you should do so for your health.”
The Roaring Fork Valley resident, 61, who holds three U.S. National Road Race Championships and was inducted into the United States Bicycling Hall of Fame in 2008, believes in the importance of consistent movement.
“Daily movement, even if it’s just a short walk of a few blocks,” Golay said. “Navigating variable terrain like sidewalk curbs and inclines helps to maintain balance and coordination. I’m trying to do more high-impact activities like hiking and walking, given that age and menopause contribute to a decline in bone density.”
But what of those who aren’t Olympians or professional athletes? Is there a simpler regimen they can adopt to maintain their fitness, balance, and mobility?
Danelle Docken, a Doctor of Physical Therapy at Grand River Health, thinks so.
“One of the biggest challenges I see, especially as people age, is just the ability to stay moving,” Docken said. “Our bodies are a use-it-or-lose-it system.”
To aid in the quest for lifelong mobility, Docken recommends a series of simple stretches.
“First, focus on your calf muscles by getting into that runner’s pose up against a wall and stretching the calf,” Docken said. “A seated hamstring stretch is great for balance. Sit with one leg extended out and lean forward to work that back hamstring muscle and glute.”
For spinal mobility, Docken suggests a cat-cow seated position.
“Sit upright, open your arms out wide, then bring them around as if hugging a barrel,” Docken said. “This benefits your cervical spine down to your sacral region. Also, work on some posterior and anterior hip tilting for balance and mobility.”
Lastly, arm stretches can improve posture.
“Try simple doorway or corner PEC stretches. Ensure your hands are below your shoulders and lean into a doorway to open up the chest,” Docken said.
“These stretches can go a long way in helping keep your mobility and balance and also strengthen your posture,” Docken added.
But it’s not just about stretches. As Docken highlights, the sedentary lifestyle can be a silent killer.
“It can happen so quickly,” Docken said. “Someone can get sick, lay down for a week, and the body needs to revamp its energy. But you start to lose muscle mass so quickly.”
To shift perceptions of exercise, Docken suggests a linguistic tweak.
“Exercise is viewed as such a negative word. It’s like the word diet,” Docken said. “Nobody wants to do it. Just moving a little bit more, even if it means walking from your doorstep to the end of your driveway and back up, that’s day one. Exercise doesn’t have to be done all at once.”
As for Golay, she believes in the power of repetition and adaptation.
“Our bodies are truly amazing, especially our capacity for adaptation,” Golay said. “‘Getting in shape is the result of creating new habits and perpetuating them over time. My muscles were sore at the start of each day’s stage, but once warmed up, I felt like a well-tuned Ferrari.”
Both Docken and Golay agree: Whether you’re an Olympian or just someone looking to stay mobile, the journey to lifelong fitness starts with daily movement.
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