August 31, 2022
I perform bodywork on a wide range of clients at my practice, all of whom have incredibly different bodies, lifestyles, stress levels, diets, and medical histories.
From daily desk workers and local foodies to competing body builders and religious runners, there is one question I ask just about every client I meet:
“Do you stretch?”
Now, it might be your gut instinct (as it was mine) to imagine that the answers have some decent variety. As it turns out, they do not. Amazingly so!
The most common reply is, “Not as often as I should,” which upon further conversation usually disintegrates into the second most common answer: “No.”
So, in the name of a healthier community, I’m going to do my best to convince you here today that stretching is truly important and worthwhile—to the point that it should be as regular a part of your routine as brushing your teeth.
When we think of and depict the older population of our country, we often give them attributes like a hunched back and a slow little shuffle-y walk.
Having myself worked at old folks’ homes for roughly a decade, the potential “golden age movement restrictions” have been seared into my brainfolds, with a few specific examples taking the cake. (Have you ever seen someone stuck at a near-literal right angle? It’s uncomfortable even to look at.)
As mentioned in our previous blog about body maintenance, across the multiple extended living communities I saw, it was all too clear to me that the residents most crippled by time were the ones who had never kept up with a routine for their joint and muscle health – aka stretching.
Sadly, it’s surprisingly simple to prevent the frustration of not being able to get your body to do what you want it to as time presses onward—this aside from the physical/aesthetic changes and the forceable floor-gazing, opposed to enjoying the beauty of the world around you.
Regular stretching benefits both your muscles and your joints. This creates a positive and significant ripple in helping to prevent injuries. And as some of us very well know, after a certain age, it’s not uncommon to become injured while seemingly doing nothing…
We reach for something on the top shelf, turn our head to look for oncoming traffic, or pick up our child and in an instant, a signal shoots through our muscles and we know, “Oh shit. That was bad.”
Or, we type, drive, or perform some other motion over and over and over again, and one day we wake up thinking, “Ow. What the hell is that?”
Why oh why do those things happen? We always feel so baffled.
The answer is that these things happen because we fail to help our bodies stay functionally ready.
We accomplished this task without thinking about it throughout childhood and adolescence, moving enthusiastically and abundantly every day.
Movement heals the body.
It’s commonly prescribed nowadays that adults incorporate resistance training (i.e. weight lifting or even plyometrics) to their health routine because science has proven that doing so fends off the muscle loss that can leave us feeble later in life.
The old person “stuckness” that I described earlier is directly counteracted by maintaining muscle strength and general flexibility – the main two outcomes of stretching.
Sporting healthy muscles and joints affords us peak range of motion throughout our bodies, which circles back around to injury prevention.
For example, I’m sure we can all imagine the couch potato who tries to help move a piece of furniture or the desk jockey who decides to throw the football with friends for the first time in years and ends up hurting themselves.
A key part of this “being out of shape” that gets blamed is less about extra pounds that have been packed on and much more about how limber the body is overall. Does it feel fluid for you to properly assume different bodily positions and postures, whether regularly or on occasion?
Beyond keeping us ready for anything, stretching is also an excellent stress reliever. The practice of stretching inherently provides a time to quiet your mind and work on cultivating calmness and a sense of peace.
We need these elements in our lives so badly, yet many of us refuse to “take the time” to stretch.
Do me a favor and take a nice, deep breath right now. Breathe in for four counts and out for six. Drop your shoulders. Unclench your jaw. Let your eyes and the corners of your mouth rest.
Doesn’t that feel better already?
Imagine sustaining a light, loose feeling throughout the majority of your day. What a difference that can make in temper, tension headaches, posture, and overall disposition. You’ll notice, your kids will notice, your partner will notice, and the world around you will benefit with you.
There’s a reason why we, and our animals, instinctively stretch when we wake up or get up from stillness. Our bodies are designed for active living. Passivity is a straight line to decay.
As with all valuable adventures in life, the hardest part is starting.
The top reason why I can get caught in a rut of avoiding exercise is because I feel too tired to do it. The devastating part is that doing it provides the energy I lack.
We’re all constantly playing Romeo and Juliet with our health. If we can manage to jump up and say, “I’m here! I’m going to do the smallest something just to prove I’m here!” the story ends so much better.
This article from Healthline does a great job of explaining how to get started with your stretching, such as the different techniques and when to use them: https://www.healthline.com/health/benefits-of-stretching#types
On YouTube, the channels Bob & Brad, as well as AskDoctorJo are excellent resources for people of all experience levels to find stretches that target specific muscle groups.
Resources: Harvard Health, Family Doctor, Mayo Clinic
About the author: Muscle Memory Massage
I'm so excited to be here in Cahaba Heights, supporting our community with relaxation, stress relief, and pain mitigation. I love it here, and I hope you'll love me being here, as well!
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