The ideal solution to weakness on one side of the...

The ideal solution to weakness on one side of the body would be regular visits to a physical therapist. Credit: TNS / Dreamstime

By the time people get to the middle of their lives, their bodies have a dominant side. This can cause a problem. You may be righthanded, but are you also right-legged, right-shouldered, and so dominant on the right side of your body that your left side is weaker and much less flexible. If so, you’re setting yourself up for a painful old age.

Face it: at age 55, you may think that 65 or even 75 is old, but given the choice, you certainly want to live to be that age. However, you probably don’t want to suffer through the common discomforts of being older. Here is the good news: many of the aches and pains of age can be prevented. That’s because a large number of these complaints may be caused by one side of your body being more strong and powerful than the other side.

Think about how you move through your daily life. Do you always reach up into cupboard with the same arm? Do you always unlock a door with the same hand? When you stand up from a sitting position, is more of your weight always shifted to one leg? If so, you may be surprised to learn how weak you have allowed your less-dominant side to become.

You can easily test this for yourself with a simple set of comparison exercises. First, try kneeling, first with one leg, then the other. Was kneeling harder to do with one particular leg? Did you wobble slightly because that leg is weaker? Next, take down a can or bottle of food from an overhead cupboard. Lift the same item down with the other arm. When lifting, did one arm need some support from the other arm? Push the item to the back of the shelf so that you can only reach it with your fingertips. Can you now reach it with the fingertips of the other hand?

If one side of your body is noticeably weaker and has a shorter range of motion, your skeleton will actually adapt to this as the years go by. The bones on the stronger side of your body will be connected by stronger ligaments, the muscles will have stronger and more flexible tendons on each end. Now take a wild guess: which side is more likely to get injured?

Everyone has a dominant side, but when it gets too dominant over time, that also affects balance. As you probably already know, folks tend to fall as they get older. Sometimes, people break a hip when they fall, and may end up walking with a limp or being disabled as a result. An article titled “Falls in Older Persons,” published by the U.S. National Institutes of Health’s National Library of Medicine, states that falls may be caused by “intrinsic factors such as unstable joints, muscle weakness and unreliable postural reflexes.” Those causes are also symptoms of one side of the body being weaker and less flexible, less able to react to a potential fall.

The problem of weakness in one side of the body can actually be fixed, but it will take a long time and a lot of concentration. The ideal solution would be to visit a physical therapist on a regular basis — once or twice a week — but that opportunity may not be available to most people. That leaves the majority of those 55 and older with the only option being a do-it-yourself plan to strengthen the weaker side of your body and make it more flexible.

Start by concentrating on using the less dominant side more often. Reach for something in the cupboard with the weaker arm. Unlock the door with the weaker hand. When climbing stairs at home, climb with the weaker leg and bring the stronger leg up behind it — but when doing this, always support yourself with both hands on the walls to lower the risk factor.

You can’t fix this situation in just a few months. It grew to the point it is now over many years, or even decades. If you really want to equalize both sides of your body, you will have to concentrate on doing it for the rest of your life, to offset the dominance that has become a habit in the way you move.

But aging without the customary discomfort of age is well worth the effort of starting to eliminate the problem right now.

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