There is no doubt – there is a fitness revolution going on. In fact, it started with Jim Fixx when he popularized running. It faltered a bit when he died from sudden cardiac arrest due to a heart arrhythmia, as many began talking about how running (and any exercise had to be just BAD for you). But, as time went on and more runners weren’t dropping over from exercise, the revolution continued.
In many cases, fitness experts talk about cardiovascular work, high intensity interval training (HIIT) and strength training as the triad of essential fitness work. However, what they often leave out is stretching.
While the first three – cardio, strength and HIIT – work your heart and muscles, stretching your body balance the workload, prevent injury and increases the benefits you’ll experience from any program.
Although I had been stretching since I ran on the track team in high school, it was never a consistent part of my routine until after I was injured because I had NOT stretched.
But isn’t that always the way? When I was a child there was a couple who were both morbidly obese. They ran the “corner store” that carried everything from alcohol to batteries, magazines to snacks and movies.
When I was 13 years old, the husband had a heart attack. Suddenly, everywhere we looked, this couple was out walking. Within months they had both dropped nearly 50 pounds and were feeling better, more active and their doctor’s reports were much better. When my mom talked with them the wife said, “Why is it we all wait until something bad happens before we make a change? Walking is simple. It’s easy and we’re both healthier than ever. We should have started this years ago!”
You may have had the same experience. It might have been starting a strength program when you couldn’t help your neighbor move a dresser, adding vitamins to your daily routine when you kept getting sick, or stopped eating processed food after a diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome.
You aren’t the only one! We all do it – just part of being human.
However, you can also change. By understanding the benefits of stretching and moving, it may motivate you to make a change that will change your life forever.
Stretching programs don’t need to take over your life and you don’t need to take up yoga to fully appreciate the benefits to your health and wellness. In fact, stretching is one of the easiest ways to improve your mood and outlook on life. Stretching helps to reduce your stress levels, increase blood movement in your brain and increases your energy – all of which improves your mood.
Seven years ago I broke my kneecap when I decided to ride my bike all winter – outside. In Florida that may be possible, but in Cincinnati you have to make some accommodations for the weather. I thought I had – but apparently not enough, hence the fall and broken kneecap.
The pain made it difficult to walk straight, so I learned to toe out with the broken leg, and the habit stuck. Three years later my lower back was in such spasms that I could barely walk, sit or stand. It took weeks of relearning to walk correctly and stretching tight muscles for my back to relax and my life to return to normal.
But, to this day, I stretch.
Stretching helps your body to work in the correct manner, better posture and with greater flexibility. Each of these reduce the potential you’ll experience an injury, no matter what sport you play.
In fact, athletes find when they include a stretching program, it improves their performance in their individual sport, reduces their recovery time and their potential for injury. You might think that you aren’t an athlete – but when you think about the hours you spend chasing after your children, running laundry up and downstairs, getting in and out of your car, hauling groceries in the house, moving furniture and just “exercising,” you might agree – you are already an athlete!
By incorporating stretching into your daily routine, each of these functions become easier, with less effort and your overall performance improves.
Do you get a 2pm slump every day?
Stretching helps to improve your blood flow and improve your focus and concentration. Just five minutes of stretching at your desk at 2pm can do the trick and keep you far from the candy machine for that mid-afternoon pick-me-up.
Stretching also helps improve your balance. If you love stiletto heels, get up from the floor frequently or enjoy hiking with your children – you’ll love this benefit.
All-in-all stretching helps keep your muscles strong, healthy and flexible. Every year after 25 you start to lose muscle mass and strength. Then, when you lack flexibility as well, you lose your range of motion and decrease your ability to exercise – like riding a bike with your children, walking the dog or going boating with your new beau.
For example, sitting in a chair all day leads to tight hamstrings (the muscles in the back of your thigh), which leads to restricted walking. Then when you may want to do something strenuous, like rock climbing with the new fitness instructor, you may end up with a pulled muscle.
Don’t be overwhelmed by thinking you have to stretch every muscle in your body or none at all. Aim for five minutes in the morning and another five minutes before bed. Stretch your lower major muscle groups in the morning and your upper body in the evening to keep everything straight.
You may even want to do some simple stretches at your desk in the mid-afternoon. These are especially beneficial to keep your mind sharp, focused and creative at your job. Your boss will appreciate your continued efforts, and you’ll be refreshed to begin your evening routine when you’re leaving the office.