55 Plus: Where’s your weak spot?

Once you turn 55 or older and you’re not as active, certain muscles will atrophy, or waste away. (Monkey Business Images/Dreamstime)
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Once you turn 55 or older and you’re not as active, certain muscles will atrophy, or waste away. (Monkey Business Images/Dreamstime)

Once you turn 55 or older, you’re usually nowhere near as active as you once were. That means that certain muscles will atrophy, or waste away. For example, if you spend a lot of time sitting, you’re not working your glutes. This is the buttocks, composed of three muscles, and it’s the largest muscle group in the human body.

The buttocks help perform many necessary movements, like stepping up on a curb or climbing stairs, even just ordinary walking. If these muscles are weak or atrophied, they may not have the strength to support the body. It might be impossible to move quickly enough to cross an intersection once the signal numbers have started counting down. Weak glutes are often a cause of lower back pain.

Perhaps your weak spot is your core. The core is your midsection, with spinal erectors that hold up the spine, and abdominals and obliques that help rotate the trunk. Since every limb movement originates in the core, a weak core will create a weakness in limb movements as well.

The shoulders are a complex and important series of tendons and joints. They allow the arms to rotate, providing a large variety of movements. One of the reasons humans are such a dominant species is not only our brains, nor just our opposable thumbs, but the incredible range of motion of our arms. Major primates also have a great arm range of motion.

However, there is another kind of weakness that many older folks don’t even know they have. They allow one side of the body do more work than the other side. This causes a muscle imbalance that, with time, can even pull on the bones of the skeleton.

Unless the muscle imbalance is huge and obvious, a personal trainer usually can’t identify it. It takes a good physical therapist to diagnose a muscle imbalance, and it’s done with special tools, such as a sensitive plate on a floor that measures the weight of each foot as the person being tested walks across the floor. Such plates can identify whether one glute or one thigh is doing more work than the other. The therapist can then create an exercise program that will build up the weaker side.

The program can never be accomplished in just a few months. It takes a very long time to rebuild a weak spot — a year or maybe even two years. Since you have already established a tendency towards atrophy, you may have to continue a specified exercise program for the rest of your life, or at least until you hit your mid-80s.

One good thing: Medicare will pay most of the cost of working out in a physical therapy or rehab center. Don’t sign up for the first site you visit, unless other sites are many miles away. If you live in a city/suburban area, there should be a number of professional physical therapist offices available. Many hospitals also offer this service. Call each place, don’t ever just ‘drop in.’ Tell the person who answers the phone that you want an assessment of any serious weaknesses or muscle imbalances in your body. The therapists can also design an efficient workout to start making your weak spot strong again.

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Wina Sturgeon is an active 55+ based in Salt Lake City, who offers news on the science of anti-aging and staying youthful at: adventuresportsweekly.com. She skates, bikes and lifts weights to stay in shape.