As a musician you know staying active and challenging your mind are key to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Your pastime of making music certainly achieves those goals, however, it is also essential that you keep your body in tip-top shape to avoid “Boomeritis,” or age-related injury.
“Musicians should not use their instrument as a means of keeping fit, but should stay fit in order to play,” advises Physical Therapist Dr. Marilyn Moffat of New York University, co-author of the book Age-Defying Fitness: Making the Most of Your Body for the Rest of Your Life (Peachtree, 2006).
Do you think you are already quite fit? Ask yourself these questions:
- Is it harder to turn, while playing, and look at your fellow musicians?
- Do you get stiff sitting through a practice session or gig?
- Try standing on one foot while playing your instrument. Is it difficult or impossible for you?
- Is it getting more difficult to load your equipment and/or instrument into your car?
If you answered yes to any of these questions you may not be as healthy as you thought.
For many years adults were told that a brisk walk three times a week was enough, but that’s just not true. “People often concentrate on cardio and strength training,” says Moffat. “Staying fit has to be comprehensive including posture, flexibility, and balance.”
In Age-Defying Fitness Moffat and co-author Physical Therapist Carole B. Lewis, adjunct professor at George Washington University and also an amateur pianist and guitarist, identify five domains of fitness: posture, strength, balance, flexibility, and endurance.
“All these things, including challenging the mind, are interrelated,” says Moffat. Therefore, exercise needs to be as much a part of your routine as your practice session and playing out.
Moffat and Lewis caution that anyone over the age of 50 should visit a physical therapist for a baseline assessment and help in getting started. You should also be sure to mention the instruments you play to get a customized workout that will also optimize your playing ability.
Posture is the position of a person’s body when standing or sitting. Posture can start to deteriorate in your teenage years from time spent seated in front of a desk or music stand. Poor posture can cause backaches and strains. Plus, breathing is less efficient making playing wind instruments more difficult. Poor posture also causes tension, leading to muscle imbalances and making it more difficult to play efficiently.
Strength is the power to resist strain. With age overall muscle size and strength declines, along with the energy supply and circulation to muscles, affecting your overall ability to participate in activities that are physically exerting. This is especially important for pianists and percussionists who need to have strong forearms, as well as instrumentalists, such as trumpeters who rely on upper body strength to hold up the instrument.
Endurance is the ability to perform an activity for a prolonged period of time. All of the previous domains affect endurance because if your body is weak, inflexible, and unbalanced, it will take more energy to remain physically active. With poor endurance you tire quickly and the time you can spend playing and practicing is reduced. Your ability to breathe properly and play your best is also diminished.
Flexibility is your ability to move and bend. Loss of flexibility is a natural result of aging due to loss of collagen, the fibrous connective tissue that makes up 30% of body tissue protein. Loss of flexibility can lead to loss of playing ability and agility on just about any instrument. Movements as simple as playing certain chords become difficult. Range of motion is particularly important for instruments such as trombone.
Balance is body equilibrium or stability. Loss of muscle mass, combined with tightening and weakening, and decreased range of movement alters our balance. Decreased circulation slows the brain’s response to balance challenges. Poor balance makes musicians more prone to falls and less confident, and less able to perform tasks like playing while standing or moving to the music.