It’s the veggie platter of the exercise set.
You know, the veggie platter at the party?
Everyone sees the veggie platter, right next to the chips, nuts, 9-layer dip, etc. and say’s “oh good , something healthy”, or something like that. And at the end of the evening?
The chips? Gone.
The peanuts? Gone.
The 9-layer dip? Just remnants, the slightly disgusting, smeared refried beans, cheese and sour cream. You can actually see where, when the tortilla chips were gone, someone just used their fingers to scoop the last of it out.
The veggie platter?
Clean, pristine, virginal and untouched, except the one piece of carrot someone used in desperation on the 9-layer dip. Everyone pays lip service to the veggies, but the proof is right there, in front of your eyes. The veggies are the girl with the great personality, who can cook, and make all her own clothes. Or the guy with great prospects and a bright future….
….but I digress…
People who exercise talk about stretching. How important it is, the benefits, how everyone should. But when the stretching bullet hits the bone??
“I’ll do it next time”
“I got behind and had to skip it this time”
“ I usually do it religiously”
“ My dog ate my homework”
You know, excuses.
So let’s talk about stretching. Why should you? What are the benefits, etc.?
“A lot of people don’t understand that stretching has to happen on a regular basis. It should be daily,” says David Nolan, a physical therapist at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital. Stretching keeps the muscles flexible, strong, and healthy, and we need that flexibility to maintain a range of motion in the joints. Without it, the muscles shorten and become tight. Then, when you call on the muscles for activity, they are weak and unable to extend all the way. That puts you at risk for joint pain, strains, and muscle damage. Not only can stretching help increase your flexibility, which is an important factor of fitness, but it can also reduce stress and body aches. Improved flexibility help you to perform everyday activities with relative ease, and can also help delay the reduced mobility that can come with aging.
One study found that a combination of strengthening and stretching specific muscle groups can reduce musculoskeletal pain and encourage proper alignment. That, in turn, may help improve your posture. A regular stretching routine can also help prevent future back pain by strengthening your back muscles and reducing your risk for muscle strain.
My back issues have made me a devotee of regular daily stretching. Which I actually do, not just talk about.
In addition, participating in a regular stretching program not only helps increase your flexibility, but it can also calm your mind. While you stretch, focus on mindfulness and meditation exercises, which give your mind a mental break. In addition to a proper diet, adequate hydration, and plenty of rest, stretching may help reduce the tension you feel from headaches
Stretching once today won’t magically give you perfect flexibility. You’ll need to do it over time and remain committed to the process. “It may have taken you many months to get tight muscles, so you’re not going to be perfectly flexible after one or two sessions,” says physical therapist Nolan The areas critical for mobility are in your lower extremities: your calves, your hamstrings, your hip flexors in the pelvis and quadriceps in the front of the thigh.” Stretching your shoulders, neck, and lower back is also beneficial. Aim for a program of daily stretches or at least three or four times per week.
Hold a stretch for 30 seconds. Don’t bounce, which can cause injury. You’ll feel tension during a stretch, but you should not feel pain. If you do, there may be an injury or damage in the tissue. Stop stretching that muscle and talk to your doctor. Being able to move a joint through its full range of motion gives you more freedom of movement. One study found that both static and dynamic stretching are effective when it comes to increasing range of motion. It may also help improve your performance in an athletic event or exercise.
Also, performing stretches on a regular basis may improve your circulation. Improved circulation increases blood flow to your muscles, which can shorten your recovery time and reduce muscle soreness.
One caveat, though. (that’s a warning, in Latin. Which I took in high school. I’m that old.)
We used to believe that stretching was necessary to warm up the muscles and prepare them for activity. However, mounting research has shown that stretching the muscles before they’re warmed up can actually hurt them. “When everything is cold, the fibers aren’t prepared and may be damaged. If you exercise first, you’ll get blood flow to the area, and that makes the tissue more pliable and amenable to change,” says Nolan. All it takes to warm up the muscles before stretching is five to 10 minutes of light activity, like an active warm up of a few minutes on a treadmill or elliptical. You can also stretch after an aerobic or weight-training workout.
OK, that’s the “ it’s good for you, dammit!” lector’s for the day.
Give it a shot.
Try it out.
And, oh, at the next party, grab a celery stick or a floret of broccoli.
What could it hurt?