For the last few weeks, we have been talking in depth about the importance of moving your body in a healthy way, not only to protect your muscles and bones, but to protect your brain as you get older.
It’s super important and it’s sorely lacking in many parts of American culture.
This week, I want to bring up a side of the “Move Right” story that people tend to forget, and many people end up in my office as a result.
The Missing Ingredient In Fitness
In general, when we talk about fitness, we tend to emphasize things like strength, endurance, and physique. This is especially true for guys: we always seem to talk in terms of bulking up or toning up. But one thing we don’t talk about much is flexibility. Some might say that’s a topic for the ladies in yoga groups, but after seeing thousands of patients suffering, I think it’s one of the most important things we talk about here on my blog.
Based on this experience, I’d be willing to bet that you either deal with back pain and stiffness, or you know someone who does. I’m primarily talking to the guys today (because this mindset seems to be more prevalent among men), but everyone can take warning from today’s message.
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. There’s kind of a macho mindset that goes along with that. Many of us guys were raised to be tough,
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 who are trying to gain back the flexibility they sacrificed when they were doing all those things they thought they could do.
It Gets Worse Unless You Make It Better
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 hard for me as a wellness coach when I see people in this condition. They can’t pick up their grandchildren or play tennis anymore. You’ve probably seen people shuffling along behind grocery carts at Publix. I’d be willing to bet that they worked very hard in physically demanding jobs when they were young, either on the farm or in a factory. I have to admire their amazing work ethic, but it grieves me that no one ever taught them about proper lifting techniques, and they probably 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.
The loss of flexibility really radiates through the whole person – inside and out.
I Can Do Some Things, But You Must Do The Others
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.
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 if you don’t warm up and stretch your muscles before strenuous exercise, you put them at serious risk of injury. Warming up increases the flow of blood in your muscles and lubricating 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 in my “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 After Your Exert
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 prepared for the exertion. That’s when injuries happen. What’s worse, this is when 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, starting 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.
If you have a young person living in your house – especially one with an active or athletic bent – this kind of training is just as important as teaching them to balance a checkbook or change a tire. Good muscle-management habits will protect them from years of pain later. School teachers and coaches, you have an opportunity to be an example in this area. Demonstrate proper stretching to prevent injuries.
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 body. One of the ways white flour and sugar harm you is in the way they break down and stiffen your muscle tissue. I have had patients who improved their joint flexibility simply by removing a couple of foods from their diets, and 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.
It Starts With Good Habits
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 a 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