By Carlee Frank
Hello there! Have you stayed on track with your health and fitness goals this week? So far, we’ve discussed the first steps to a healthy diet, figured out how to fit exercise into our busy weeks and talked about the realities of the current food industry. While these challenges might seem overwhelming now, remain dedicated and you will begin to see and feel changes in your mind and body. Today, we’re taking it down a notch, and relaxing our bodies with a bit of stretching.
Yes, stretching. Often times neglected, or purposefully avoided, it is one of the most important activities for the human body as we age. It encourages flexibility, strength and healthy muscle tissue. If muscles are weak and unable to fully extend, we are at risk of joint pain, strains and muscle damage, and prolonged inflexibility can even result in joint damage. Stretching, on the other hand, can prolong mobility into a late age.
For many years, trainers promoted stretching prior to physical activity; however, current research shows this may actually harm our muscles. When muscle fibers have been sedentary for extended amounts of time and then stretched, damage may occur. Therefore, the new suggestion is a quick 10 minute warm up, such as a brisk walk while swinging your arms, to activate the muscle fibers beforehand. Finally, during stretching, the Mayo Clinic states we should not bounce, but instead hold the stretch for 30 to 60 seconds.
Now that we’ve discussed the science of stretching, onto the art of stretching. It can be done anywhere and at any time; on land, in the water and even in the air –cue visions of aerial yoga.
For those of us unwilling to tangle ourselves up in ribbons suspended from the ceiling, however, there are easier ways to stretch. For example, waking up and stretching can focus your mind, relax your body and increase daily mobility; taking a stretch break at work can relieve stress and refocus your mind; and stretching before bed will relax tight muscles and allow you to fall asleep more quickly. Finally, stretching after a workout, when all of the muscle groups are activated, can lead to your deepest stretch.
While stretching every once in a while is good, in order to increase flexibility and really benefit the body, stretching must become a daily or weekly routine. Finding time to stretch is easier than finding time to exercise. I have listed four examples above, but if you need more ideas, you can execute a flexed foot calf stretch while brushing your teeth, complete an overhead arm stretch while waiting for your food to cook, or do a fold over stretch while on the phone. As you begin to stamp out time for your body, you will become more aware of your movements and health.
Actually, there is a whole practice devoted to flexibility and mind body awareness –it’s called yoga. Yoga was developed in Northern India over 5,000 years ago, and while its origins lie in ancient Hindu practices, many cultures have adopted it over the millennia and either discarded or changed its religious undertones. Now, yoga is practiced by more than 36 million people in the United States, according to a study by Yoga Journal and Yoga Alliance. There are even yoga classes at the Spring Creek Athletic Club and Springville Health and Fitness in downtown Springville. So, if you want to complete your weekly stretching in a fun and engaging group fitness setting, stop by a local yoga class.
Many gyms with pools even offer aqua yoga classes for seniors, injured individuals and anyone looking for a unique experience. The weightlessness in water reduces pressure on joints and allows participants to move more freely, which then activates your muscles without the wear and tear.
This week I challenge you to stretch in the morning, stretch in the kitchen, or even stretch at work! Let’s commit to improving our mobility and strength. Next week, we’ll delve deeper into the topic of healthy dieting –and the not-so-healthy diet fads.