Hello dollies, welcome to part 2 of this month’s Wellness Wednesday, 11.2019, flexibility. In this month’s first post, I shared my progress on the wellness goals I created for the year and talked a little about holiday health tips. You might want to have a look, here.
Today I want to share the importance of stretching and flexibility in maintaining your body’s physical fitness. You might remember I have been going for physical therapy for several months to help with a pain that began in my upper right thigh and radiated down the back of my leg, at times all the way to my calf.
To Stretch or Not to Stretch
While no imaging was done to determine what was going on with my leg, both my doctor and the physical therapist determined from my symptoms that I was experiencing sciatica. My Prince C. has been dealing with lower back and hip issues for a year of more. A few months ago, he had suggested that we begin our gym workouts with stretching first. Even some yoga. Which was all new to me because I had always been one who just threw on my tennies and went running, or off to the gym, without stretching beforehand. In fact, I had even read articles that said stretching before exercise wasn’t necessary.
Then I turned 61! And this pain began, or began getting worse. It had bothered me for some time but sitting for more than 15 minutes was painful. As was doing any kind of exercise, even walking. Thanks to my PC and my PT, I have discovered that stretching can help a great deal. Learning the proper stretches for relieving my leg pain has helped even more.
Fitness Over 50: The Importance of Flexibility
We always hear about how important flexibility is, but when it comes to fitness over 50, stretching and improving flexibility can make all the difference in how comfortable, strong, independent and confident you feel in your body. Like any aspect of life, flexibility requires consistent stretching and active effort. I was really impressed with myself when the physical therapy technicians commented on how flexible I am. But my sciatica was limiting my flexibility some. And making exercise and even sitting for long periods of time very uncomfortable.
How to maintain and improve flexibility
Remember how much I loved going to my physical therapy appointments? Here’s part of the reason why. The therapist began each visit by giving me a transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) on my lower back. He dimmed the lights, draped a hot pack around my right hip, bolstered me with lots of pillows and used the TENS unit to direct electrical current onto my sciatic area. Then he massaged my lower back, hip and leg with ultrasound. Only then was I ready for the stretching exercises. Many of the stretches I was taught are included in this video.
5 ways to stretch and improve flexibility
- Consider your muscle tension and current physical state. Many people find that they can already name where they feel tension in their body or where they would like to be more comfortable. So be honest with yourself and focus in!
- Make it a habit. When you incorporate stretching into your daily/weekly routine, it becomes a habit and you’ll see your best outcome. It is something that many people find all too easy to forget, and it is something you want to make as well incorporated into your routine as brushing your teeth in the morning.
- Abs stretch. Your core is essential to all function, from balance and strength to simply holding yourself upright. You can stretch your core and back by focusing on abs stretches, such as the Cat-Cow stretch and many more stretch poses targeted to your abs. Be sure to stretch often and take it slow.
- Push yourself, but push yourself comfortably and safely. Especially when you are starting from little to ‘no’ flexibility, stretching is not going to be comfortable. But the more that you do it, the more you will loosen up, improve your flexibility, and feel better. So you want to push it, but you do not want to push it too far. Jacque Crockford, exercise physiologist with the American Council on Exercise, emphasizes, “Do not hold a static stretch if there is pain. This is a sign you are stretching too far and should back off. Stretching may be challenging but should also feel like good tension.”
- Get movement in and stretch. If you are in a crunch for time, it is most important to get some movement in such as a walk and a stretching session. So if you find yourself in a pinch for time, make stretching a priority. You will thank yourself for it, especially as you start feeling more flexible and better overall.
Why is flexibility so important?
While it is a fact that you are more flexible when younger, getting older does not mean that you have to lose your flexibility. Plus, improving your flexibility is always possible and while it is important at any age, it is especially important as you get older.
Here are only some of the benefits of regular stretching and greater flexibility:
- Improved circulation
- Greater strength
- Greater coordination and reduced risk of falling
- Improved elasticity of muscles
- Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease
If you need a little more motivation to get to stretching and improving your flexibility, think about life activities that would be a lot more enjoyable with greater flexibility. For example, greater range of motion will make it a lot more comfortable to chase your grandkids around and pick them up. It would also mean a better golf swing, ease of checking your ‘blind spot’ while driving, and more. And while it is common for it to be more challenging to perform daily tasks such as bending over to tie your shoe over 50 years old, it doesn’t have to be a consistent challenge or painful.
I am a believer in stretching and improving my flexibility. My sciatica is so much better. Our few minutes of stretching puts me in the right mindset for exercising. And has made it easier to run again and even sit again!! Do you have any suggestions on how to improve flexibility? Do you stretch before working out?
Written in collaboration with Mary Johnson.
Hugs and kisses,