By MaryLee Herrmann
A podiatrist, a gynecologist, a physical therapist, and a chiropractor walk into a bar … and they all order the same thing.
Alright, my podiatrist, chiropractor, PT, and gyno (who is also my general practitioner) didn’t actually walk into a bar together. But they did all order the same thing. Over the last year, each of them has ordered me to do stretches every day.
If you are like me, you spend most of your day seated at a desk. And when I’m up and walking around, I’m hardly exerting myself. Other than sporadic attempts at an exercise routine, I’m not athletic. And my understanding of why to do stretches is to prepare our muscles for physical activity. Since my level of “physical activity” is very limited, at first I didn’t really heed the suggestion.
Then I tore my meniscus, which required surgery and physical therapy. Motivated by the premiere of my one-woman show, Schmaltzy & Princie: Diary of a Not-So-Great Daddy’s Girl, which was going to be in Los Angeles and only six weeks post-op, I committed to doing the daily stretches the physical therapist prescribed.
By the time my performance came around, I was ready. It really worked! I surprised myself and was amazed at the difference stretching made.
Over the past year I’ve come to realize the benefits doing daily stretching can have on not only our physical but also our mental well-being.
Here are the things I’ve learned from doing stretches every morning.
1. Wake-Up Call
Making stretches part of your morning routine gets your blood flowing. This improves circulation and wakes up your body and mind for the day even before a shower and your first cup of coffee.
Physical therapy after my knee surgery was vital if I was going to be able to perform my show in the scheduled time frame; however, it wasn’t enough. Doing the stretches the therapist had instructed me to on days between appointments made a significant difference in my pain levels and increased my capabilities.
3. Preventive Care
Doing controlled movement on your own can strengthen muscles and also signal potential strains. This affords you the ability to tend to weaknesses before an injury happens. Plus, if your muscles are stretched, you are less likely to make any damaging motions whether you are working out at the gym or bending down to pick something up from the floor of your office.
4. Getting It Straight
Growing up, I have vivid memories of my mother walking behind me and pulling my shoulders back and telling me to stop slouching. As a kid, it used to annoy me, but I’m grateful now because thanks to her, my posture has always been good when I’m standing or walking. However, in this day in age, with so much time spent sitting at a computer, it’s easy to lose awareness of how much we are slumping and sitting in ways that can affect body alignment. Stretching promotes good posture and strengthens muscles.
5. Stress Positions
Stress can tense up muscles. So doing stretches can relieve stress and anxiety. When I start to feel keyed up, I take a few slow breaths, then focus on my neck, shoulders, and upper back by doing shoulder rolls or similar movements.
6. Going Through the Motions
Doing stretches can increase your range of motion. I hadn’t realized how much I was limiting myself because an activity or movement looked too taxing and I wouldn’t do it. So it makes me happy I’m able to do things I would have previously balked at because now I have more freedom of movement.
7. Come on, Get Happy
Speaking of “happy,” the above-mentioned perceived limitations took a toll on my frame of mind. Even as I would see people much older than me performing physical feats like exhaustive tap dancing and rock climbing, running marathons and competing in triathlons, I couldn’t help but feel “old.” “My body is not that strong — I could never do that,” I’d think, as though it was out of my control. So the more proactive I am, starting with morning stretches, the more capable and confident I feel.
8. A Stretch in the Right Direction
A big positive of taking the time to do stretches right after I wake up is the wonderful feeling that comes from knowing I’m doing something so good for myself, all before breakfast. It’s an empowering way to start the day on the right foot! Or leg, or neck, or back, or hips, or whatever could use stretching.
9. The Stretch That Keeps on Giving
For me, when I get started on something like this stretching routine, once I’m on a roll, I don’t want to let it end. So, getting started and doing it daily makes me want to do it again tomorrow. That’s a win, right there.
There are great resources online to find stretches that are best for you. I’m not a medical expert (though I have some great specialists referenced above I can refer you to!), so be sure to talk to your doctor or other trained professional before starting any new program.
In the meantime, even if it took a knee injury for me to learn, I can tell you stretching regularly has enhanced my life and makes all the difference in how I feel inside and out on so many levels.
Remember, our shock absorbers (knees, joints) are what are going to let us keep our mobility as we age, so it’s important to keep them in shape. What we do today will determine how well we’ll get around tomorrow.
So, give it a stretch — I mean a try!