Would the verb, ‘busy’ describe your day? Somehow, despite all the restrictions imposed on us since the virus changed our world, it seems we still can find ourselves amazingly busy. Too busy, in fact, to attempt to squeeze in a bit of self-care. Thankfully, there is a free, relatively easy activity we can do that can help you feel better and does not involve a large chunk of time: Stretching.
I do not think it would be a stretch to state that stretching regularly offers many benefits. One of the primary advantages is that it can make you feel better – both physically and emotionally. Stretching can also help offset some of the effects of normal decline.
I asked my brilliant daughter, who is a master of ‘all things muscle’ to give me some wisdom about stretching. When it comes to stretching, she says that there are two kinds: muscle and fascia.
Muscles are a type of elastic tissue (think rubber band) that is responsible for movement in our bodies. Their job is to produce both force and motion.
Fascia is a thin web or casing of connective tissue made primarily of collagen that surrounds every internal body part – even muscles. Think of the casing around a bratwurst to get a better picture of this.
Muscle stretching is basically, ‘do a certain move, hold for 30 seconds and repeat’. That action signals certain receptors in the muscle to relax. It can be referred to as dynamic stretching.
Fascia stretching is a physical stretching of the casing. It is more of a sustained stretch. Think of a t-shirt that you need to stretch out a bit. You wouldn’t pull it out over and over, you would stretch it and hold it for a couple of minutes. There is something about that sustained hold that will make the difference.
Now, for those who are currently living with and caring for your loved one. Who has time to exercise after constantly jumping up a couple of times every night to provide care, hoping to it in order to fetch items and fix meals, and springing up to offer assistance? But if you do happen to tilt toward the sedentary, it can leave a person off-kilter.
You may not want one more thing added to your day. If adding anything to our already busy schedule seems overwhelming, perhaps the idea of tweaking something we are already doing can be viewed in a more favorable light.
A five-minute stretch every morning or evening is an easy add-on to your existing routine. One way is to sit on the side of your bed, lay back, and stretch out your hands over your head. Wait for five minutes. Hint: it’s a bit harder than it sounds but worth it to help stretch out your core.
Since I tend to pack my schedule and lengthen my to-do list, I try to sneak a little stretch into a few of my everyday activities. When putting on socks or a top, I try to pause and ‘enjoy’ the stretch for a moment. It also helps reinforce my balance on one leg if I am standing up. There are times when I pull my socks on by sitting on the edge of my bed – pausing for a moment. I don’t know how effective this is, but I believe these little stretches will allow me to keep putting on my socks as I age for longer without assistance.
And while we are on the subject of aging-well, I also try to make it a practice of periodically checking my posture. Also standing on one leg for thirty seconds, then switching to the other one for another 30 seconds only takes a minute. Finally, at some point in the day, I sneak in a moment to sit down on the floor and then get up with the least amount of assistance possible.
Caution: only do moves and stretching that you are comfortable with. Don’t overdo, and as an added precaution, try to have your phone within reach should you find that you need assistance.
The bottom line is this: stretching is not about keeping us alive; it’s about helping us feel better while we’re alive. Body pain often comes from tight or sore muscles. Little known fact: muscles love to party – when one muscle hurts, others will want to join in the fun (so to speak). On the other hand, stretching can make your muscles feel better, and by spreading the joy around it can improve your quality of life.
Has your world been touched by dementia?
My book, “FinishingWell: Finding Joy in the Journey”, is a collection of stories and tips about doing life with my Mama. May it encourage and inspire you to find joy on your own, unique journey. Find our group on Facebook