I hope you had a great, restful weekend and you’re looking forward to a terrific week.
When we talk about fitness, we tend to emphasize things like strength, muscle tone, and endurance. This is especially true for guys. We usually talk in terms of bulking up or toning up. A few laps around the block is a popular way to build up endurance. But one thing we don’t talk about much is flexibility. Some might even say that’s a topic strictly for yoga classes.
Why Is Flexibility Important?
When you’re young and you believe you’re invincible, it’s easy to take for granted that you can play any game, jump any distance, and climb anything you want. When you get hurt, you shake it off and keep going.
But there comes a day, typically in your early forties, when reality gives you a good hard slap, and things that used to come easily for you are a little more difficult to manage. We call it “that old football injury, with a mix of misplaced pride and regret. I don’t know how many patients I see every week that are trying to gain back that flexibility they sacrificed when they were doing all those things they thought they could do.
As we move through our fifties and sixties, certain movements become difficult or painful – buttons become unworkable, staircases become an exhausting chore, and it hurts to get up out a chair. It’s so sad to see people in this condition. They can’t pick up their grandchildren. They struggle to walk through the grocery store. You’ve probably seen people shuffling along behind their grocery cart, just laboring to make the trip around the store. I’d be willing to bet that, if I were to sit down with them and ask some questions, we’d find out that they worked hard when they were young, either on the farm or in a factory somewhere. I’d guess they probably didn’t give much thought to their food intake – many of them were just glad to have something to eat. No one ever taught them about proper lifting techniques, and they never heard anyone teach on the importance of stretching.
You can see when they walk that the cartilage in their joints is either damaged or non-existent, but it goes deeper than that. There is often nerve damage that causes pain to radiate through their limbs. Muscles grow stiff and brittle as they calcify. But maybe the hardest part is how it damages their confidence, self-image, and hope. Loss of flexibility really radiates through the whole person – inside and out.
There are several things that I can do as a chiropractor to help my patients regain their lost flexibility, including adjustments and massage, but there are a couple of things you can do to help save your flexibility before you lose it.
Our bodies are made up of up to 70% water. Your skin, muscles, tendons, and cartilage are made up mostly of water, and when you get dehydrated, they begin to break down. Water is what keeps your joints lubricated and free. It also keeps all of our cells healthy, soft, and pliable, in addition to all of its other amazing benefits. If you’re feeling joint pain and stiffness, the first thing to reach for is not an ibuprofen, but a glass of clean water.
Avoid White Food
I strongly advise you to minimize your exposure to refined sugars, flours, and salts. As a rule of thumb, if a food is white (like refined flours, salts, sugars, and milk), keep it out of your food. One of the many ways white flour, sugar, and salt harm you is in the way they break down and stiffen your muscle tissue. I have had patients who began to improve their joint flexibility simply by removing a couple of foods from their diets, and usually these refined white foods are the biggest culprits. If you come to my office for a 28-day detox cleanse, you can rest assured that white foods will be thrown out early and likely stay gone.
One thing you will never see is a professional athlete who runs out on the field for a game without warming up. Why do they spend all that time stretching, running, and throwing before the game? Because when you don’t warm up and stretch your muscles before strenuous exercise, you put them at serious risk of injury. Warming up increases blood flow to your muscles and lubricating synovial fluid in your joints. Light stretching also increases your range of motion and prepares your body to transition from the low level warm up into the intense exercise session. Muscles are more flexible when they are warm and soft. Simple stretches limber up the muscle groups, allowing them to stretch and move with ease during strenuous activity.
If you work in a physically demanding job, take a few minutes at the beginning of your shift to do some simple stretches like the ones we are highlighting in the “Move Right Monday” video series. These simple, quick stretches and calisthenics will prepare your body for the work of the day.
Take Time to Stretch Afterwards
The mistake many people make is in thinking, “well, this is just a quick thing I’m going to do. I don’t need to warm up or stretch.” They lift a heavy box or push a car off to the side of the road without first making sure all their muscles are prepped for the strain. That’s when injuries happen. What’s worse, this is when the injuries happen that limit mobility for a lifetime.
Strenuous activity shortens and tightens your muscles, even after you have limbered up, and part of the process of building muscle is tearing and repairing the tissue. The cool-down stretching process brings nutrients to the affected areas to start the recovery process, and flushes lactic acid, which accumulates in the muscle tissue as it tears. As Dr. Mercola points out, “It is like the exhaust coming out of an engine. If you have too much lactic acid accumulation, your muscle will be slow to heal.” That explains the stiffness you feel after strenuous work without a proper warm-up or cool-down. If you’re a delivery driver, a production line worker, or a mechanic (or frankly, any job where you’re on your feet all day), take some time to warm up before you get busy. You will thank me (and yourself) in your seventies when you can walk without assistance.
You might know a young athlete or even have one living in your house (like I do). Just like learning to manage time and money, learning some good muscle-management habits early in life will protect your children (or the children you work with) from years of pain later.
As I’ve been involved with Blue Zones, I see more workplaces implementing conditioning programs to help prevent work-related injuries. So often, we think of cuts, falls, or breaks, but it’s the back and shoulder injuries caused by inadequate muscle preparation that causes the majority of career-ending injuries. And it’s all just because we didn’t learn good exercise habits as kids. Don’t let it happen to you or someone you care about.
Watch the “Move Right Monday” exercise videos we have on our YouTube channel, by yourself and with others. The movements are simple but they are effective for helping you to improve flexibility, stability, and motor control. If you’ll make them a part of your daily routine, you will start to see marked improvement in the way you feel and move within a few weeks. I want to see you living in the best health possible.
“At the end of your feelings is NOTHING. At the end of your principles is a PROMISE.” — Eric Thomas