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Neck exercises for successful aging

By Heather Wallingford

Neck exercises are almost magical.

Every time we stop and start a neck movement we get a blast to our brain’s overall arousal system. We stimulate the semicircular canals of the inner ear, which send a blast to the cerebellum, which controls overall muscle tone and makes the antigravity muscles ready to work. Doing a few before you get up from sitting or lying down is a good idea.

There are a few ‘do not do’s’ with neck exercises. These include circling the head, which is hard on the small facet joints, and leaning the head backwards, which can pinch the vertebral artery that supplies the base of the brain. The exercises for the neck are ear to shoulder, chin to shoulder and forward and straight, not back. Let discomfort control your range of movement.

Leaning your head backwards doesn’t stretch or strengthen anything because your head is a ball. There is no point in risking pressure on the vertebral artery.

Circular exercises of the neck grind the little facet joints, which is a real no, no, especially as we age as we already have some wearing out. Nothing is gained by doing head circles as it is not as clear a stimulation of the semi-circular canals that pick up angular movement.

Neck exercises also play a major role in balance.

Neck exercises stimulate the sensory part of the balance system. They also increase the overall tone in the muscles, especially the antigravity muscles. However, coordination of the long muscles and the short stability muscles of the legs and trunk must work together to keep your balance, so a well balance movement program throughout the day is usually required.

Heather Wallingford is a retired Physical and Occupational Therapist who has worked for nearly 60 years with children, adults, the elderly and workers in heavy industry.  She has had an interest in neurophysiology for the last 45 years. For successful aging,  she emphasizes the extreme importance of including movement in one’s lifestyle throughout the day from the time you open your eyes.

For a free exercise booklet send name and address to hjwallingford@gmail.com

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