2:10 Series of Habit Hacks for an Improved Lifestyle: STRETCH

Thank you to every person dedicating his or her time to reading this article and joining me on our wellness journey. Personal improvement is a long-term process focused on daily ritual shifts.

#2 STRETCH

As an ex-ballerina and Pilates junkie, my body awareness gravitates towards my hips. Learning how to create space between your hip ball-and-socket joint is the backbone of any succeeding movement. My instructor, from a reformer class I took in Tasmania, said we should grow taller everyday not sink into our bones.

Chronic stress impairs functioning in the majority of Americans. Ohio State University states, "stress can be triggered by a number of events, both positive and negative, real and perceived." This exposure to stress causes the body's muscles to tense. My previous article defined embodied cognition; contracted muscles send signals of fight or flight to the brain. Stretching loosens tight muscles, relieving stored energy in the body and increasing blood flow. Muscles tighten and relax but are unable to lengthen themselves; this characteristic creates greater understanding for the importance of stretching.

Gentle low-intensity stretches for people predominantly engaging in high-intensity interval training, extreme sports, cardio, or weight-lifting eases their bodies into larger ranges of motion. Focusing on equality for both sides of the body is the goal of a stretch routine. Bringing awareness of constriction in one muscle over its opposite reveals inclination for injury. Regular stretching lowers tendency for stiffness and increases energy levels during the day. 

Holding a static stretch for upwards of six to ten seconds avoids tearing the myofibrils. It is critical to avoid bouncing, countering the misperception of 'improving the stretch.' This improper movement places added stress on the lower back. Exhaling while in position eases clenching, relaxing the body and deepening the stretch. Effective lengthening of the muscle begins when a stretch is repeated three times.

While it may seem daunting to include yet another Health Hack into an already busy schedule, I encourage us to take 60 seconds out of our day to give back to our muscles. Roll your head to the left and place your left hand below your right clavicle. Close your eyes and sigh. After seven seconds roll your head to the right side and place your right hand below your left clavicle. Close your eyes and exhale. Take both arms straight up and pull your shoulders to your ears. Release. Keeping your arms raised above your head, stretch your left hand up to the sky and drop your left arm relaxing your shoulder. Repeat with your right arm outstretched to the sky then drop your shoulder down. Take both arms overhead reaching up and from your breastbone stretch your upper body up and towards the back. Release and revel in your muscular relaxation. Greatest benefit of stretching? Instantaneous relief from constricted muscles. 

Sources:

Dreifke, Sarah. "The Benefits of Stretching." Fit Day. https://www.fitday.com/fitness-articles/fitness/stretching/5-benefits-of-stretching.html

Mayo Clinic Staff. "Stretching: Focus on Flexibility." Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/stretching/art-20047931

Ohio State University, "The Physical Effects of Stress." Ohio State Masters Program Blog. https://onlinemasters.ohio.edu/blog/the-physical-effects-of-stress/

St. George, Francine, Stretching for Flexibility and Health. (Freedom: The Crossing Press Freedom California, 1997).

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