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The most important muscle

Photo courtesy of SweetJ

A few years back an instructor pointed out to me an interesting journal article about aging and frailty.
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As I remember, the scientists were trying to figure out what was the difference between elderly people who become frail and elders who thrive.  So, they got a big sample of elders and divided them into two groups (triving and frail), and measured lots of physical variables to figure out what caused the difference between the groups.
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Among all the variables that they measured they only found one significant difference - the thriving group had significantly greater strenth and flexibility in the muscles surrounding the ankle (specifically the calf muscles).
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That can't be right!  What in the world does the ankle have to do with how you age?
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Well, think about it for a minute.
  • Every time you sit down or stand up, you have to either pick your heel up off the ground (putting a lot of stress on the knee) or you have to stretch your achiles tendon so your heel can stay on the ground.  If you can't stretch the ankle and you can't withstand the stress at the knee, then you can't sit or stand in a controlled manner.
  • Every time you have to step down off of a step or a curb, it's the same story - stretch the calf muscles and make a controlled descent, or hop/limp down and risk falling.
  • Every time you walk on any uneven surface you have to make many small adjustments in your ankle to control your balance.
So, if you don't have the strength and flexibility in your ankle to control your balance, then as you age, you're going to have to stop walking outside and stop climbing up and down steps and stop going places where there are curbs.  You basically have to stop moving - and that's a prescription for disaster!
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So, who'd have thunk it - the ankle is the most important part of your body for continued health into old age?
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And that's why activities like taichi and aikido have been demonstrated to be so good for aging people - they carefully and deliberately exercise the ankles under weightbearing loads! 
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Patrick Parker is a Christian, husband, father, martial arts teacher, Program Director for a Cardiac Rehab, and a Ph.D. Contact: mokurendojo@gmail.com or phone 601.248.7282 木蓮
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