The Importance of Long-Term Activity in a Minimal-Action World
 by Dr. Kevin O’Hara D.C.

Many people experience increasing musculoskeletal joint stiffness as they get older. Shoulders, knees, and ankles don’t seem to be as flexible as they once were, seemingly more difficult to bend over and pick up a dropped object. It may be uncomfortable to turn your head around to see the car in the next lane that’s right in the center of your driver’s blind spot. The bad news is that, left unattended, your joints do get stiffer as you get older. Left on their own, your joints will likely lose full mobility. The good news is there’s plenty you can do about it. You can regain and retain much of your youthful flexibility if you are willing to be proactive.

First, let’s review some basic physiology. Joints such as the shoulder, knee, and ankle are lubricated by synovial fluid. This fluid keeps joints moist, provides oxygen and nutrition, and washes away toxic end-products of normal metabolic processes. The joints in your spine are also lubricated and maintained in this way. Aging reduces the amount of available synovial fluid and also increases its viscosity. The result is stiffer joints, pretty much from top to bottom.

The specific countermeasure to such physiologic aging is to participate in interests involving active motion. In today’s world, this is a pretty challenging prescription, considering most of our time is spent seated. Our bodies were designed for hard, physical work, but as we’ve transformed from an agrarian to an industrial society, and more recently, from an industrial to a service-based society, the nature of our work has changed dramatically. The vast majority of our work is now done sitting at a desk. In addition, when we’re not typing on a computer keyboard or reading a spreadsheet, we’re at home watching TV or playing games on our computing devices.

Thirty minutes of exercise per day, five days per week, will assist most of us in maintaining as much joint flexibility as possible. Exercise increases the internal core temperature, which in turn, decreases the fluid’s viscosity. The overall result is increased flexibility, which is often experienced immediately. Alternating a cardiovascular exercise day with a strength-training day is an optimal program. Yoga provides a total body workout that incorporates cardiovascular exercise, strength training, and flexibility. Ultimately, the types of exercise are less important than the long-term consistency. Maintaining a routine over the years will provide great, long-lasting benefits, not only in terms of improved joint flexibility, but also in overall health and well-being.

Dr. O’Hara’s office is located at 940 S. Arthur Avenue in Arlington Heights. For more information, call 847/577-3597 or visit

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