Ankles are the Bosses of Mobility
~ By Cate Reade, MS, RD ~
The minute our feet touch the ground, mobility and balance begins! Strong, flexible ankles can best sense and respond to our dynamic environment, keeping us upright and moving smoothly through our daily lives. Ankles and feet are often an ignored part of an exercise program. When was the last time you did ankle exercises? See what I mean?! We compromise our mobility and independence when we overlook the importance of ankle strength and flexibility. When you compare weak, stiff ankles to strong, flexible ankles, which pair of feet will help you respond to uneven surfaces or other perturbations? You guessed it right, strong and flexible ankles will win every time; feet and ankles are the very foundation of mobility.
As mentioned in last month’s article, “Stay Strong, Mobile & Independent,” to build strength we need to progressively challenge our body with our own body weight, weights or elastic resistance. To gain flexibility, perform exercises through a full range of motion. To do this, move your foot and ankle in all the directions possible. This simple movement strengthens muscles around the entire joint to create balanced and stable muscles around the ankle which helps decrease the risk of injury. This is why engaging in a variety of physical activity and exercise is always best. For example, if you only exercise on a stationary cycle, you are strengthening your ankle muscles in the direction you move, pushing forward. This leaves the surrounding ankle muscles on the sides, back and diagonally weak ,causing an imbalance that can increase the risk of an ankle sprain. Most ankle sprains occur laterally when the ankle rolls outward.
If you have been ignoring your feet and ankles, here are some simple exercises you can add to your daily routine to keep your ankles strong and flexible. We’ll start with exercises you can do from a safely seated position. Sit tall with good posture, your buttocks as far back into the seat as possible, with your back upright, chest lifted and a neutral spine. Shoulders are back, ears are in line with shoulders and hips. Thighs are parallel to the floor or hips are slightly higher than the knees. Ankles are under knees or slightly forward. If your chair is too deep, place a lumbar roll, pillow or 7” spongy ball behind your lower back.
Now take a few deep breaths and let’s start with 5 simple exercises for the feet and ankles. Do 10 repetitions of each:
- Toe Lifts
Lift your toes up and lower.
Muscles strengthened: Dorsi-flexors to lift toes when walking.
- Heel Lifts
Lift heels up and lower.
Muscles strengthened: Plantar flexors to help increase walking power.
Also a great way to boost circulation! The calf muscles squeeze the veins to push blood to the upper body.
- Toe Circles
With heels on or lifted off the floor, make circles with your toes. Reverse directions.
Muscles strengthened: Dorsi- and plantar flexors; invertors and evertors for greater ankle strength and flexibility. May decrease stiffness and reduce pain.
- Toe Fans
Rotate toes outward (duck)and inward (pigeon).
Muscles strengthened: Invertors and evertors for better ankle stability and mobility.
- Alphabet Writing
With heels on or lifted off the floor, write the alphabet with toes.
Muscles strengthened: Dorsi- and plantar flexors; invertors and evertors for better balance.
Do these exercises whenever you are sitting watching TV, at the computer or while waiting for an appointment. When you are ready for a greater challenge, add some light ankle weights or do the exercises with elastic resistance bands or tubing. The MoveMor™ Lower Body Trainer is a great way to enhance strength and flexibility of feet and ankles in just minutes (www.MoveMor.com). The strength benefits come from 12-points of resistance around and between each foot. Flexibility is supported by movement in all directions.
Cate Reade, MS, RD, is an ACE-certified Senior Fitness Specialist, and a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in Nutrition and Physical Fitness from NYU. She has been teaching, writing and prescribing healthy eating and exercise programs for over 25 years. She is delighted to be helping seniors regain strength and mobility as the CEO of Resistance Dynamics and inventor of the MoveMorª Lower Body Trainer. Contact Cate at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.MoveMor.com.