Anita Kelsey explores how we can be more physically flexible and enjoy increased mobility as we get older…
I have just spent a minute of my life fixated on a video of a large cat squeezing into a small round fish bowl. I can’t look away from it. Will it, won’t it? Well, of course it will — it’s a cat!
An hour later, with the fish bowl mog still on my mind, the air turns blue with my profanities as I tug at my jeans trying to pull the zip up over my stomach. How are cats so flexible and able to make themselves resemble the dimensions of a toothpick at the drop of a hat? Which is certainly not the case for their owners!
The key is in the spine. Not literally of course, although a cat would find that hilarious. Trotting along smugly as they annoyingly rattle the golden key to bendy enlightenment in our envious little faces.
Did you know?
The human body adapts to its environment. For example, sitting in the same position or carrying a bag on the same shoulder each day will see the muscles in those areas adapt. This can result in the affected muscles having less range of natural movement. The right exercises will help to rediscover some of this natural mobility.
So, what do the little smug tinkers have that we haven’t?
Cats are able to rotate the spine more than many other animals, and can twist and turn with great flexibility due to the vertebrae being padded with discs that have far more elasticity than ours. They also arranged for their maker to give them shoulder blades that are not connected to bone but instead to muscle. Oh, and they turned down the offer of a long, anchored collarbone like ours. They insisted on free-floating clavicle bones instead. All giving them this incredible flexibility which can see them engineer themselves into the tightest of spots and perform athletic feats, such as being able to jump over five times their body height.
Another thing cats have is the ability to right themselves in mid-air to land on all fours paws, no matter how the body is positioned when they fall from a height. Their ‘rubber’ bodies allow them to manoeuvre with agile perfection in front of our very eyes, arching their backs gracefully before landing for maximum cushioned impact. This innate balancing system is known as the ‘righting reflex.’ Although the adage that cats always land on their feet is a myth — they just do most of the time!
As well as having the anatomy that allows great feats of contortion, cats also help themselves to stay supple. Felines instinctively stretch as part of their daily routine. One of the first things you may see your cat do is stretch their front legs or back upon walking. They may then go to a nearby scratch post for another body/arm stretch, which also flexes the muscles in their paws, as well as depositing a fresh new dose of their scent.
We maintain our cars, we maintain the look of our homes, we even give our computers maintenance checks, and yet when it comes to the most valuable possession we will ever own — our bodies — we often cannot be bothered.
So, what can we learn from our feline friends? How can we be more cat?
Ten to 15 minutes spent everyday on extending various parts of our bodies will help our joints get ready for the day and improve our mobility as we inevitably age and deteriorate. Our spine, arms, legs, back, neck, and even feet and ankles all need slow movement stretches, just like our moggies in the mornings, to relieve us of stiff and painful joints so that we can enjoy life to the maximum of our capabilities. An added bonus is that not only is stretching great for joints but feeling good physically also helps the brain release happy endorphins. Think you saw your cat smile today? Now you know why!
Did you know?
A cat’s righting reflex sees a cat’s balance system work out quickly which way is up as he falls. The cat can then move his head the right way up and the body will quickly follow.