How to move heavy objects without hurting yourself
How to move heavy objects without hurting yourself

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As the years go by, do you find it increasingly difficult to lift shopping bags out of the car or carry cooking pots from the stove to the sink? This is not unusual.

A study of nearly 5,000 adults published in 2013 in the journal Work found that people in their 40s could easily lift 17 percent more weight than people in their 60s. “As we age, we tend to lose muscle mass, which is associated with declining strength,” says Jennifer Brach, a professor of physical therapy at the University of Pittsburgh. “When you have less strength, it can be harder to carry something heavy.”

Cardiovascular performance also declines with age, so carrying heavy objects may tire you more quickly than you once did, says Todd Manini, co-director of the Claude D. Pepper Older Americans Independence Center at the University of Florida in Gainesville. Joint, muscle, nerve and flexibility problems can also make tasks like moving furniture and stowing luggage in overhead bins more difficult. Here’s how to make all of that easier and make sure you don’t fall or otherwise injure yourself.

Set yourself up for success

Regular exercise can counteract some of the decline in performance that makes lifting and carrying difficult. “As people become more sedentary, they become weaker,” says Manini. Aim for at least 150 minutes of aerobic activity a week, such as brisk walking, biking or swimming. Do strength training at least twice a week to keep your muscles strong. Stretch regularly to improve your flexibility.

At home, place heavy objects that you use frequently in easily accessible places on shelves or cabinets – not high up or low down. Make sure the area is well lit and there are no tripping hazards. For the same reason, wear well-fitting, supportive shoes that stay securely on your foot when lifting heavy objects – not slip-ons.

Whether at home or on the go, distribute the loads so that each one is lighter, even if you have to make multiple trips. That might mean packing fewer items in each grocery bag or making the laundry basket smaller. “Think of it as exercise,” says Brach. “The more trips you make, the more steps you’ll take.”

Lifting and carrying correctly

Prepare your body. Five minutes of walking or marching in place, squats and shoulder rolls will loosen the joints and warm up the muscles so they are ready for work.

To come close. Push or pull the object you want to lift toward you—ideally, it should be no more than a few inches away from your body. “The farther away the object is, the more force is exerted on muscles and joints,” says Manini.

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. A wide support base provides stability when lifting. Also tighten your abdominal muscles to protect your back.

Use your legs, not your back. This means bending your knees and squatting to pick up an object that is below you (on the floor, for example). “Your legs are bigger muscles,” says Manini. “They were designed for this.” Don’t bend at the waist, as this can put strain on your back.

Lift carefully. Keep your head up and shoulders back and hold the object at waist height, close to your body. Then straighten your legs. Stand up straight while carrying the object, making sure it does not obstruct your view, and take small steps. To put it down, tighten your abdominal muscles and slowly squat down.

An inexpensive reacher tool will extend your reach by up to three feet, which is helpful if you can’t bend down without a stool or reach items on high shelves. These are useful for lighter items like a soup can. If you need a step stool from time to time to reach items above you, choose a two-step model with a wide base and a handle to hold onto.

You can slide furniture and other heavy objects across the floor using round discs called gliders. And if you have to climb stairs to do laundry, a laundry bag is a safer alternative to a laundry basket. You can pull it while holding onto the banister, and it won’t obstruct your view.

A shopping cart with wheels provides a hassle-free way to transport heavy items, such as multiple full bags of groceries, while on the go. Many are collapsible so they can be conveniently stored in your car.

A car organizer (usually with bins, nets, or straps) will keep items from sliding deep into the trunk where they’re hard to reach. If you’re carrying things like books or a laptop at home or on the go, consider a backpack. This distributes the weight evenly and keeps items close to your body, which is more comfortable than a bag you hold at your side or wear over your shoulder.

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