My goal for achieving better health involves incorporating very simple steps to our daily routines. As moms, we know it’s hard to get much time to ourselves. In Step 2, stretching for flexibility, we will see how “stove up” we get when we’re not actively working against tight muscles.
With young children, we did good to get showers between feeding, burping, changing diapers, and singing the Itsy Bitsy Spider a gagillion times a day.
With older children, we still are caught in a never-ending cycle of activities, but those pesky hormones (the kids’ and ours) pack a double whammy on our ability to cope. There is no such thing as a simple request to find their shoes that might not end up in tears and yelling. I’m not saying who’s crying and who’s yelling. Take your pick. And, oh the drama of homework.
Well, you feel my pain. Being a mom ain’t for the faint of heart.
As our children age, we, of course, age, too. But I sincerely feel we age exponentially to their maturity. Who hasn’t felt 20 years older than their driver’s license birth date? This phenomenon is usually the result of too many drive thru meals eaten in the car on the way from school to sports/dance/music lessons and the cumulative effect of years of little sleep (sleepless babies morph into toddlers who climb into bed with you who then grow up to need rides to and from parties at all hours). A mom’s job truly never ends.
We started our 12 Steps to a Healthier You Journey with just adding a few glasses of water a day. It may have sounded impossible to give up coffee and sodas, but we did it. It may not yet feel entirely worth it, but give it some time. We are baby-stepping our way toward real and meaningful lifestyle changes. Hang in there!
What’s Step 2, you may ask? Well, it’s not running a marathon! Or eating vegan! It’s only a little stretch or two from where you are.
- Do you get up in the morning and walk – or limp – kind of hunched over to the bathroom?
- Do you have to slowly work out the kinks in your hips when you get out of the car after driving all over town with kids, aka back seat drivers, telling you where they need to be next?
- Does your neck feel like you’re carrying one of those wooden yokes with water buckets hanging at each end?
- Does your lower back threaten to go on strike if you lift more than a gallon of milk from the back of the minivan?
You can shrug those aches and pains off as natural aging, but flexibility, or the lack thereof, is a real hazard to our overall health. The very definition of flexibility is “the quality of bending easily without breaking.” Ha! There have been many times I was pretty sure I was going to break right in two if I had to bend over to unload the dishwasher one more time.
Inflexibility – the opposite of being flexible – can be dangerous simply because our muscles, tendons, and ligaments get all bunched up and stiff, which then limits our ability to comfortably and safely perform daily tasks. In essence, it’s easier to hurt ourselves when we are stiff.
Twist wrong, and a crick in the neck or shoulder will leave you looking at life sideways.
Bend wrong, and the lower back goes out.
Sit too long, and the hips get stiff and painful.
Poor posture causes chronic back pain. All. The. Time.
Think you’re a klutz because you’re always tripping? It probably has more to do with your balance, which is thrown off by being inflexible.
I’m not suggesting you need to do the splits or backbends. We’re not going to be the next Simone Biles. She’s pretty great, but let’s get real. However, adding stretching for flexibility will come with positive payback. Just not an Olympic gold medal.
According to many health and physical fitness experts, such as Harvard Health, activities that “lengthen and stretch muscles can help prevent injuries, back pain, and balance problems. A well-stretched muscle more easily achieves full range of motion.”
Muscle tension inhibits circulation, which can prevent nutrients and oxygen from properly moving through the body. “When the muscles are more flexible, they relax and create improved circulation,” reports LiveStrong.
Flexibility also improves posture. The spine’s alignment is less affected by tight muscles and more able to support your body’s movement.
So, for our first challenge with Step 2, let’s keep it easy but effective:
Add about 5 minutes of light stretching several times a day. Whenever you think about it, as a matter of fact.
Find your tight spots and focus on finding ways to lightly stretch it out. This is not a no pain-no gain exercise. Stretching for flexibility means to feel better when we’re done.
Here are some suggestions to help you get started:
Neck rolls. Loosen up those neck muscles with five neck rolls.
Shoulder rolls. Like the neck rolls, these can be done anywhere, anytime. Start with five forward and five backward.
- Shrug your shoulders up trying to touch your ears.
- Pull them back, squeezing your shoulder blades together.
- Roll them forward and back up to your ears.
Forward bend. From a standing position, slowly bend forward just until you feel a stretch in the back of your legs. Slightly bend your knees. No shame if you can’t touch your toes. Then, slowly roll up. Do this five times.
Ankle rolls. Like the shoulder rolls, do five one way, then five the other. It’s best to do this while sitting unless you have really good balance or can hold on to something.
- Point your foot and roll slowly to the right.
- Rotate all the way around until it’s pointed again.
- Repeat five times, then reverse, rolling slowly to the left.
Calf and Achilles tendon stretch. Face a wall or other non-moving structure (you don’t want to face plant with this one) and lean forward with your feet 12 inches or so from the wall. Place one foot a little further back and lean in to the wall. You should feel a stretch in your calf. Hold this for 20 seconds. Then, bend your knee slightly. Now, you should feel the stretch in the back of your ankle, or your Achilles tendon. Do both feet several times. This feels especially good in the evening after a long day of driving all over creation.
Bonus stretch: This one isn’t really advanced, but it takes some space and possibly a little privacy. Sit on the floor and draw your legs up toward you, letting your knees open to each side. Hold for 20 seconds. Lean forward slightly, holding your ankles and hold for another 20 seconds. This is a good one for tight hips.
That’s it! For step 2, let’s add two to three sessions of stretching for flexibility per day. That’s a total of maybe 10-15 minutes each day, and three of the stretches can be done at the stop light! Totally doable. Make sure you breathe through the stretches. Oxygen does a body good.
Do you have a favorite stretch for your tight spot? Share it with us in the comments.