By James Riley

Contributing Writer

Fitness and good movement skills require sufficient strength, cardio endurance, efficient biomechanics and mobility — and of these four acquired physical traits, mobility is the most important.

Mobility is the muscle range of motion that allows all aspects of the joint to articulate. Sufficient mobility is required for good biomechanics, which are needed to gain cardio endurance and strength. Mobility permits quality alignment that allows the body to properly bear stress and make free, fluid and joyful movement.

We don’t want overly loose joints nor stiff joints. What is needed is mobility that allows our muscles to reach our natural ranges of motion so we can maintain good alignment (good stress-bearing mechanics) as we move actively throughout the day.

Moving well begins with posture, that dirty word your parents and P.E. teacher used when you slouched. Posture was once actually taught in school, but I digress.

With good posture, breathing is more efficient, joints are aligned, stress forces are at a minimum and your muscles are all the right length for reflexively good alignment.

Yes, we are genetically predisposed to have good posture. Children naturally develop well-aligned posture at a young age. A plumb bob could be dropped from the ear lobe of most 5-year-old kids and the line would run through the center of the shoulder joint and hip socket and reach the floor at the front edge of the heel bone. Nature wired us to be so aligned.

Observe the average adult tourist walking about Solvang and you will be unlikely to view good posture. You most likely will observe a forward head, rounded shoulders and short strides indicative of tight hip flexors, and people falling into a shuffling stride as they move. What happened to the well-aligned child they once were? Why did they develop poor posture and lose the mobility they had in their youth?

The bottom line underlying all movement is that the body responds to the stresses put upon it. Put simply, the body will adapt and shape to the activities we ask it to do. Many seniors sit for long periods and move infrequently. It’s called the sedentary lifestyle, often a habit learned as a requirement of the modern office job or past school attendance.

Prolonged sitting, especially when working at the computer or watching TV, encourages a forward head position, a collapsed ribcage and elevated shoulder blades. Sitting creates a 90-degree bend at the hips and knees, which shortens the hip flexor and hamstring muscles. That pulls us into poor alignment as we stand and move.

Through prolonged sitting and a sedentary lifestyle, we have effectively taught our body that mobility is no longer needed. That results in poor alignment and movement quality. Lack of mobility in the ribcage and hips and a forward head position create tight muscles that draw us into poor posture.

How do we develop and maintain mobility in our rib cage-shoulder complex and hips? And how do we regain a vertical head position for good postural alignment?

Frequent proper stretching and mental focus are the remedy for muscle tightness, and it requires some assessment expertise. The cheapest and most effective solution is to take a mobility class such as yoga, Pilates, Tai Chi or other fundamental movement class — a beginning, uncrowded class led by a teacher who understands mobility, emphasizes good biomechanics and provides assessment and correction for poor alignment.

Pay close attention, ask questions, take notes, and follow through by practicing daily stretching movements at home. Go to class to gain the knowledge, then stretch daily at home to gain the mobility. Little will be gained by just going to a class twice weekly and not following through at home. A class is for learning.

Improving mobility also requires the mental focus to practice good alignment during the day. Posture is driven by reflex and motor pattern. It is learned over time. What is learned can be unlearned and corrected, but it takes time and mental focus. Poor posture comes about after prolonged poor practice, and it will take time and mental focus to create your improved alignment. A healthier you is worth the effort. Mobility gives you permission to move well.

Is mobility work worth the time and effort? You bet it is: Your quality of life depends on it.