We all know people who are light on their feet. Fred Astaire comes immediately to mind, as do tennis star Andy Roddick, the great Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter, and WNBA star Candace Parker. Closer to home, we may recognize similar combinations of grace and athleticism in a family member or friend. We may believe that such qualities are inborn and represent natural abilities. But each of us can develop comparable qualities of fluidity and ease of motion. We may not achieve the skill levels possessed by professional athletes, but we can acquire improved posture, greater balance, and heightened skills in day-to-day tasks requiring dexterity and coordination. In other words, we can all develop a spring in our step.
Such a springiness and lightness are the direct result of efficient biomechanical functioning of the spinal column and weight-bearing bones and joints including the pelvis and hips, knees, and ankles.1,2 Such efficient biomechanical functioning is innate, but these abilities are gradually lost as we grow up, encounter the stresses of life, and become more and more sedentary. Over time, our musculoskeletal system loses flexibility, dynamism, quickness, and the ability to respond to sudden changes in the environment. The overall result is an impression of stiffness and heaviness. Gracefulness is lost as soon as physical motion becomes conscious and planned, rather than instinctive and spontaneous. But these losses are not necessarily the inevitable accompaniment to growing up and getting older. The good news is that such lightness can be recovered. We can restore that spring to our step and, in fact, learn to turn back the clock.3
The great benefit is that the processes involved in reacquiring gracefulness, lightness, and springiness also lead directly to improved health and well-being. The primary action is to engage in regular, vigorous exercise. Any form of exercise, done consistently, will enhance biomechanical functioning. Your muscles learn how to dynamically support increasingly heavier loads against gravity. Proprioceptors, specialized nerve endings located in weight-bearing joints throughout the body, learn to rapidly respond to mechanical alterations in three-dimensional space. Your heart and lungs become more efficient as your body learns to adapt and respond to increasing physiological demands. You begin to lose weight as your daily desire for excess calories naturally decreases in response to a more physical lifestyle. In many ways, your body becomes much smarter and you soon find yourself noticing a certain ease, a certain economy of physical movement, as you go through your day.
The innate grace that begins to be recovered is the wellspring of the newfound spring in your step. As you continue to exercise and achieve your optimal weight, such physical ease perpetuates and becomes an integral component of your overall enhanced health and well-being.
- Iorio JA, et al: Biomechanics of Degenerative Spinal Disorders. Asian Spine J 10(2):377-384, 2016
- Du CF, et al: Biomechanical response of lumbar facet joints under follower preload: a finite element study. BMC Musculoskelet Disord. 2016 Mar 15;17(1):126. doi: 10.1186/s12891-016-0980-4
- Huang ZY, et al: The location of Modic changes in the lumbar spine: a meta-analysis. Eur Spine J. 2016 Feb 25. [Epub ahead of print]