20 May Stretch Your Way To Better Health
Stretch Your Way To Better Health
Some of the topics I discuss in this weekly blog are downright embarrassing. Some blogs give shocking (and sometimes scary) new treatments that really work. Some are new ways of tackling age-old problems. And then some are just common sense things we often forget about- stuff we know we should be doing but we just don’t. (Like the concept of “taking the freakin’ stairs”). Which brings me to today’s blog. Stretching. We all know we should be doing this, but for many of us, weeks go by and we forget to devote a portion of our day to maintaining this important aspect of our health. Before we know it, we can hardly touch our toes. Yet, as we age, stretching, along with strength training, is vital in maintaining a healthy body.
Case in point- A few winters ago, I was skiing with my three kids. As I was following my teenagers down the slope, I fell backwards onto my ass. (I didn’t say I was skiing WELL.) I’m sure that if I had fallen while going down a bunny hill, I probably would have stopped dead in my tracks as I hit the snow. But on the steeper, intermediate slope I was skiing that particular day, I fell backwards and continued to slide downhill on my back. At this point, I figured I had two choices: I could try to stop myself and attempt to regain my composure, or I could continue down my path until my body came to a complete stop on its own. I opted for choice #2.
I could see my kids at the bottom of the hill looking up at me in horror as their mother continued to slide for what seemed like 20 seconds or so. One of my skis was pointing down toward the bottom of the hill, and the other was backwards over my head. When I finally came to a complete stop, my kids rushed to my aid. Horrified and frightened they asked, “Are you okay, Mama?” “Of course I am,” I answered. I honestly had no idea what they were talking about. I felt perfectly fine. I popped back up on my skis, quite confused by their reaction. “It looked like your leg was broken!” they all said.
I moved all my body parts in question, reassuring them (and myself, at that point) that I was uninjured. “See, nothing’s broken.” And then it dawned on me. For many people, sliding down the hill in that awkward position would have resulted in a dislocated hip or at least a broken leg. For me, it was simply a nice stretch and, if I’m being totally honest, a somewhat lazy way to get down a mountain. From that day on, I have been preaching the importance of daily stretching. In addition to protecting our bodies from injury, flexibility is crucial to our overall health.
The Benefits of Flexibility:
- Improves mood– Stretching releases chemicals in your brain that improves your mood. (See the blog, Choose Happiness) The American Council on Exercise says that flexibility training not only increases physical relaxation, but it also increases mental relaxation
- Improves posture– Bad posture is the result of tight pectoral muscles and weak back muscles. (See the blog, Chin Up, Tits Out).
- Reduces aches and pains– Lower-back pain often stems from overly tight hamstrings. If you keep your hamstring muscles stretched out and increase your flexibility in you hips, you lower your risk of experiencing lower back pain.
- Better overall health- A study published in 2009 in the “American Journal of Physiology” revealed that subjects who were highly flexible had corresponding arterial flexibility and overall better health. Those who were not flexible were at in increase risk for heart disease and stroke.
- And of course, as I learned that day on the ski slope, Injury Prevention– The more range of motion you have in your muscles, tendons, and ligaments, the less prone you are to injury.
I’ve found that the best way for me to remain flexible is to make yoga an important part of my exercise regime. If you have not found your way into a yoga studio yet, I suggest you search online for the nearest yoga studio in your area.
There are also many good beginner online yoga courses available on YouTube. I like the following one in particular for beginners because these two instructors work together to show each pose. If you are uncomfortable entering a group yoga class for the first time, this online course is a great place to start to learn the basics. It is an hour long class that teaches you 20 beginning yoga poses (Video).
If yoga is not for you, there are plenty of 15 minute stretching tutorials online (Video), or simply fall back to your old high school gym teacher’s stretching routine.
If you devote at least 15 minutes to stretching every day, you will be surprised at how quickly your body responds. Before you know it, your hands will once again find your toes. Hooray!
So there you have it. Stretch your way to better overall heath, and you too can have the added benefit of awkwardly wiping out down a mountain… unscathed.