7 signs you’re in bad shape — and how to fix them

Struggling to put your arms overhead? Sleep disrupted? Step away from the junk food, pop down your beer and give this a read...

“Nothing is static,” the author of Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk once wrote. “Everything is evolving. Everything is falling apart,”

Does that make you feel better about those weird pops your shoulder makes when you roll over in bed? Probably not, because even though entropy is the only real certainty and everything you know will one day be dust, it’s hard to square that with the decline of your own once-pristine physique.

If you’re starting to feel the niggles that come with age and experience, here’s how to fix them.

You wince when you put your arms overhead

Ooof. Didn’t stretch this morning? Slept a bit weird? Whatever your excuse, if your shoulders start to protest when your elbows go over head height, you’re starting to develop an imbalance somewhere along the chain – sort it out, so that you’ll never need help loading your carry-on into the overhead locker.

Fix it: Start by spending more time with your arms overhead. Try the yoga push-up, which offers a safe, effective way to groove the overhead pattern, while working on shoulder joint mobility — do a press-up, then keep your hands and feet stationary as you bring your hips towards the ceiling, ending in an inverted V-shape. Repeat 3-5 times, for a couple of sets.

Your heels come off the ground when you squat

Give it a try now: if you can’t sink into a squat – chest up, back straight, hip-crease below the line of your knees – without your heels rising up and your knees wobbling like a newborn gazelle’s, your flexibility’s been destroyed by too much chair-sitting. Fast-forward a few years and you’ll be creaking your way off the sofa.

Fix it: The ‘Goblet’ squat will help you assume the position, by adding a weight that pulls you down to the proper depth. Grab a dumbbell by one end – or even just a bag with a few books in – and squat as low as possible, using your elbows to push out on your knees. If your heels still creep up, put them on a pair of tiny weight plates, or a very small step, to groove the movement.

You need more than one pillow to get to sleep

Sure, sure, every man goes through a phase – after the nomadic grind of early-20s flat-hopping, perhaps – when he accumulates cushions like he’s decorating a Moroccan palace, and sleeps through every hangover on a stack of pillows the size and softness of the Ghostbusters Marshmallow Man. But listen – listen – if you really need more than one nicely-fluffed pillow to actually get to sleep, there’s something wrong.

Fix it: Imbalances anywhere can interfere with your posture and sleep – so make mobility work or foam rolling a regular part of your routine. At a minimum, roll your T-spine (hands folded across your chest), hamstrings and calves twice a week, for 60 seconds each.

You keep letting your belt out a notch

Technically, 37 inches is the waist measurement when GPs start to get nervy about your future health, but past a certain point, any expansion’s cause for concern – the distance around your midriff’s certainly a more reliable indicator of your heart attack risk than your bodyweight alone.

Fix it: Exercise will help up to a point, but diet really is the difference-maker. Fix yours a meal at a time – aim to get a hit of protein and veg for Monday’s breakfast, then do a full roll-out of the strategy at your own pace.

You can’t comfortably sit on the floor

No, of course it’s not as manageable as slumping into the couch, but that’s kind of the point – by sitting on the floor, you’ll force yourself to shift position regularly, rather than staying utterly motionless for three straight episodes of Killing Eve. But if you can’t find a position that’s tolerable for even a few minutes, that’s a warning sign that your flexibility isn’t up to much.

Fix it: By doing it occasionally. Nobody’s expecting a full lotus – or even crossed legs – but sitting in what’s known as the 90/90 stretch will allow you to open up your hips during prime binge-time, without leaving you in agony.

You can’t remember the last time you had a full week off the booze

Fine, there was big George’s thirtieth, and Squeaky Pete’s wedding, and the leaving do for that guy from IT you never actually liked that much, but…what about that week when you just had a couple of carefully-curated IPAs a night because work was getting a bit much? Ideally, your liver needs at least 48 boozeless hours every week to keep things ticking over, but it never hurts to give it a bit of time off for good behaviour.

Fix it: For home-boozing, the key is to shift your habits: if your go-to routine for ‘Tough day at work’ or ‘Friday night’ is a couple of stiff drinks, make an alternative plan and get to work building that habit. For the pub, change your vocabulary: saying ‘I’m not drinking this week’ instead of ‘I can’t’ or ‘I shouldn’t’ makes you feel more proactive…and reduces the risk that someone’ll just buy you a pint anyway.

…Or you’re just tired all the time

TATT, as it’s known in medical circles, is one of the most common complaints in doctor’s offices all the way across the indolent West, and there’s no single cure-all. Assuming you’ve done the obvious – getting more sleep, knocking off the caffeine after 3pm, cooling it on the booze – it’s possible that the problem’s psychological.

Fix it: Stress has a whole host of knock-on effects on your system, but exercise, eating (slightly) better and just being a bit more careful about your own well-being can help you turn the corner. If you haven’t got time for 20 minutes of journaling and meditation in the morning, try a sport of what US Marines call ‘tactical breathing’ – breathe in for four seconds, hold for four, and out for four, to activate your parasympathetic nervous system when you’re rattled or trying to hit the hay. If you think you might be suffering from depression, don’t take any chances – head to the doctor.

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