blog Aug 16, 2015

Flexibility, an important part of our physical fitness and something we really should do every day.  Like many things that are "good" for us, daily stretching sounds like a great idea, but putting it into practice sometimes becomes a bit of a stretch.  Allow me to share with you from my own personal experience why making stretching a priority is something to consider. 

Suffice it to say that as a child I was not incredibly flexible.  My sister on the other hand was often referred to as a "Gumbi doll".  We were blessed with a mom who encouraged us to try many different activities and then supported us in pursuing our favourites.  My favourites by far were gymnastics and dance.  Obviously a lack of flexibility was not going to cut it in either so I worked hard at improving it and was successful. 

Fast forward a few decades and sliding down into the splits as part of my post-workout stretch was still easily doable.  That was until two years ago when I was rear-ended.  Fortunately it was not serious enough for either driver to have an ambulance called as we were both able to walk away.  There were of course neck and back injuries due to whiplash, but I was most surprised to find that I had lost almost all flexibility in the lower body.  Basic stretching made me feel like the Tin Man before Dorothy was able to oil him up and I found myself thinking "What condition would I be in if I hadn't always included stretching as part of my daily workout routine?". 

Stretching and staying flexible is important for many reasons, all of which benefit us as we age.  The Mayo Clinic's website says; "More research is still needed but....Stretching can help improve flexibility, and, consequently, range of motion in your joints. Better flexibility may improve your performance in physical activities or decrease your risk of injuries by helping your joints move through their full range of motion and enabling your muscles to work most effectively. Stretching also increases blood flow to the muscle..."

The Arthritis Foundation's website had this to say: “Stretching is helpful,” says Amy Ashmore, PhD, an exercise physiologist with the American Council on Exercise. Stretching particularly benefits those with arthritis by lubricating joints and enhancing and maintaining range-of-motion."

By taking a few minutes to do a few dynamic stretches (a stretch that warms up the muscles by mimicking the movement of the exercise you will be doing) prior to your workout and some longer, static stretches (stretches that are entered into slowly and held ideally until some relaxation of the muscle is felt, but even 20 seconds is beneficial) done as part of your cool down will get rid of that "Tin Man" feeling and have your body running like a well-oiled machine.

Muscles have memory and that will work in your favour.  It has for me.   Since stretching was part of my daily routine prior to an injury, recovery and regaining my flexibility is happening.  If you have never given much thought to stretching, you may be thinking, "...my muscles don't have anything to remember...".  Good news!  It is possible to create a memory and give them something new to think about. 

As with learning anything, repetition is the key to making it stick.  Start slow, as it's much better to go a little easy and have results take a little longer than to over stretch and pull or tear something and then having a set back.  The general rule of thumb is; stretches should be slow and controlled, advancing to the point where you feel some tension, but never pain.  Any time you feel pain slowly back out of the stretch, check your body alignment and then try again.  Pain would indicate that you are trying to stretch too far beyond where your muscle is capable of going at the moment, or that your body is out of alignment.  Most gyms have a trainer on staff who are there to answer questions, so at any time if you're not sure about something, ask them! 

After a few weeks of daily stretches, your body will become accustomed to it and begin looking forward to it.  Test this by skipping a day.  Most people will feel a difference in their bodies (less energy, stiffness, achy) after missing just one or two stretch days.  This tells you that your body is now remembering what you have taught it and would like to continue.

So this week I challenge you all to incorporate some stretching into your exercise so that as you go through life, your body moves like a well-oiled machine and not the Tin Man.

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