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Stretching: Putting the Gold in Your Golden Years!

Staying flexible physically actually helps you feel younger! Stretching will keep your muscles strong and allow you to stay mobile long into your golden years!

A few years ago, I was picking up something off the floor when one of my daughters said, “Dad why do you make that old man noise?” I said, “What do you mean?” “Well, every time you bend over, you make a sound like an old man.”

“That’s ridiculous. I do not.” And I bent over just to prove it. It was a mild strain, but I made sure that I didn’t make a squeak. Some time later, I bent over again, and she said, “See, there it is.” That really bothered me, so I started to pay attention, and she was right, I grunted when I bent over. When it started, I have no idea, but putting on my shoes and socks, or pulling a weed all got a grunt. It worried me that maybe the grumpy old man shuffle was next!

Let me share with you what I have noticed now that I am clearly on the downside of the hill. As we advance in age, we don’t lose strength very rapidly, but we lose flexibility at a dramatic rate. As muscles and joints get tighter, bending to put on shoes and socks gets tougher, and the strain makes funny noises come out of you. Consider yourself warned.

Do we really have to wave the white flag of surrender to age, gravity, and injury? As the average person ages, they become more sedentary, and over time, the muscles, ligaments, and tendons contract, shorten, and fibrose, thereby leading to decreased range of motion and a slow downward spiral of function. Overuse, abuse, and injury fast track that process.

Pay attention to TV and magazine advertisements for over-the-counter anti-inflammatories, painkillers, and muscle relaxants that are marketed to hide these complaints. I understand it, but to me, that’s like driving in your car when the oil warning light comes on, so you put a piece of tape over the light and keep on driving. Nothing is fixed, but you hide the indication until there is some kind of severe breakdown.

So, what’s the answer for the loss of flexibility? Not to be over-simplistic, but the answer to the lack of fitness is to get fit, and the answer to the loss of flexibility is to get flexible. How is it done? I’m going to say the dirty word right now; stretching. I know that most people would rather have a root canal, scrub a public toilet, or wash windows on the top of the Empire State Building. But, stretching has a number of beneficial effects and can be so worth it.

Benefits include improved circulation, increased flexibility, increased range of motion, decreased tension, increased relaxation and stress relief, enhanced performance, function, and coordination.

There are a number of different techniques when stretching, but I’m going to categorize them down into the two major groups of ballistic and static. And here is where there is so much controversy, but because I’m in charge right now I get to push my conclusions which are based on my personal experience and observations.

Before a workout or event, I prefer the ballistic approach. Done properly, it is 70% warm-up and 30% stretch. It involves exercises like jumping jacks, burpees, windmills, and sit-ups. It warms the muscles, increases blood flow, and notifies the body to get ready for the main event. It should employ motion, and even a mild bounce, but never stretch beyond the normal range of motion to the point of pain, or there is the risk of injury. I find that stretching a cold muscle is never a wise idea. Five to ten minutes using all the major muscle groups should be sufficient.

After the game, event, or workout, static stretching will keep away tightness and discomfort. With static, the body part is stretched and held at the point of tension, but short of discomfort, for 20 – 30 seconds. This largely bypasses the myotatic contraction reflex so the muscle can relax and lengthen. Static stretches can be performed anytime anywhere multiple times a week for this relaxing, lengthening effect.

The goal of stretch is to transition from inactivity to activity and then back to inactivity, to decrease muscle tension, promote freer motion, and avoid injury. The best book on this subject that I have found is Stretching authored by Bob Anderson. Since I have been employing his approach, my senior citizen grunt has disappeared, and, hopefully, it should hold off my old man shuffle indefinitely.

It’s time to stretch out those kinks and pains and keep your mobility so you can keep the gold in your golden years!

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