Wengen, Switzerland; photograph courtesy of Andrew Bossi

The quick answer:  A muscular lifestyle, including regular stretching, ensures a healthy body.

A Village Too Beautiful

Did I mention the beautiful wife is half-Swiss?  She is, which may explain how she avoids fights yet never surrenders.  A while back we thought it would be good to visit picturesque Wengen, birthplace of her great-grandmother.  The village, perched above an alpine valley and reached by cog train, is more beautiful than words can describe.  If you haven’t been there, put Wengen on your bucket list.

Despite the Alpine beauty, what I remember most about Wengen is the fitness of the people.  It’s a walking town—there are no cars.  Everyone walks; the walking paths are either climbing or descending.  People of all ages are fit and trim with muscular legs.  I don’t recall seeing anyone overweight and they had wonderful pastries.  A culture where people eat sensibly and live vigorous, muscular lives is a wonder to behold.  Which brings us to the subject of this week—exercise, with emphasis on stretching. 


Exercise is the subject of four Healthy Changes—that’s how important it is.  The post referred to below called for 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week—a minimum of 2 hours.  A prior post, Not Quite Jack LaLanne, shared our family experience with exercise.  This week’s post will discuss stretching exercise.  Later this year we’ll discuss weight lifting, and then aerobic exercise.

To be healthy you must eat well, but you must also use your muscles.  Strong muscles build strong bones—they work together.  Note the cross-section picture showing muscle and bones for a 74-year old triathlete, equivalent to the bones of a 40-year old.  Note also the thin bones of the 74-year old sedentary person.  (In the picture, starting from the skin, fat is white, muscle is gray, and bone is black.)  This post also lists some of the life-extending benefits of exercise.

Flexibility and Aging

Have you observed how you become increasingly less flexible as you age?  Maintaining flexibility—through stretching—is one way to slow down the aging clock.  One study, reported in this N. Y. Times article, revealed a connection between the suppleness of your body and the flexibility of your arteries, including the coronary arteries critical to heart health.  Flexibility, like the touching of toes, is a marker for artery health. 

Here’s are common stretching benefits:

  1. Increases flexibility
  2. Improves circulation
  3. Improves balance and coordination
  4. Reduces lower back pain risk
  5. Can improve heart health
  6. Reduces the tension of stress
  7. Improves energy

How to Stretch

The beautiful wife, depending on her stress level, can get painful muscle spasms in her back.  Stretching seems to help and we’ve had the intention for some time to add this to our exercise regime.  Time went by and we never got into a regular routine, though we bought books and yoga DVDs.  A few days ago, with a wedding coming up, we decided to get serious and made time in the morning after her walk, but before breakfast.  It seems to be helping so we’ve made a commitment to continue, daily at first, then 3 times per week.  Stay tuned; we’ll report back later in the year.

Women are better at stretching than men—I think it starts in the head.  Yoga is a favorite method, but there are other ways to stretch.  You don’t need to buy anything to get started—you can find resources on the Internet.  Go to YouTube and search under exercise.  You can even enter the part of your body you want to focus on.  Be cautious—an injury can delay your progress.  If you have concerns, check with your doctor.

Healthy Change

Please comment: Share your experience with stretching exercise.  How often do you do it, what do you do, and what's the benefit.

Need a reminder? Download our Healthy Change reminder card. Print and fold, then place in your kitchen or on your bathroom mirror to help you remember the Healthy Change of the week.

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Reader Comments (7)

I find yinyasa yoga to be the best combination of aerobic exercise and stretching... the class I take has the first 30 minutes as brisk vinyasa flow sequences (which definitely count as moderate/vigorous exercise!), then the last 30 minutes as yin yoga, holding the postures for minutes at a time. I have always been VERY inflexible and have noticed a difference since beginning this class! Also, once you've taken a yoga class, it's easy to incorporate those stretching motions into your other exercise, such as at the end of a run or brisk walk.

I tried for a long time to become someone who "worked out", joining gyms and reading health magazines. I think the best advice (which I may very well have gotten from your blog) was to do something you enjoy! Yoga, walking, and occasionally running have proven effective for me.

May 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMegan

I love this! In high school I was on the dance team, so stretched every morning as a start to my day. It was amazing the energy I felt all day, despite the fact I was waking up at 5:30 for school and usually going to bed after 11:00.

When I went to college, they had a course called Flexibility. It was a hard one to get into because it concluded every day with a 15-20 minute "rest". The class focused on stretching your muscles and then resting at the end to allow the oxygen to flow, much like yoga. I sadly had to drop the class after a few weeks, but it was amazing how energized I felt after leaving. I vowed I would carry on with the stretching and resting, but of course, life caught up.

Now, as a mother, I've tried to incorporate Yoga into my life. It's amazing how much more centered all aspects of my life become when I can get into my yoga routine. Spiritually and physically I feel so much more attune. I'm a writer and I notice I have less writer's block when I do Yoga. In fact, at a recent Writer's Retreat, there was a whole session dedicated to how yoga helps in writing.

My husband is a corporate attorney in NY and his stress load and free time have really been eaten up lately. While on a vacation, I introduced him to your site. He was very inspired by your challenges and has decided to start on them. He's even agreed to try some Yoga with me (we use Dina Peterson's DVD's from BYU creative works, if you're interested).


May 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSherry Berrett

I suffer from a bulging disc in my back and had pretty constant pain in my lower back and down my right leg. It was only after daily stretching, ab exercises and some cardio exercise that I have begun to feel relief from the pain. The stretching and exercise does wonders for the muscles in my back and legs, and I'd rather take the time out of my day to stretch and exercise than deal with that awful pain!

May 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAllyson

I grew up a dancer and gymnast. Now at the age of 27yrs. and three kids within four years I've really needed to take some time to focus on me and get some good exercise and stretching. I found a local ballet studio with adult classes. I love that I can do something I've always enjoyed. My muscles are stronger and I'm getting more flexible like I used to be! I leave ballet class feeling great! Thanks so much for all of your great posts!

May 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCherisse

I love the beautiful picture of Wengen! Last fall, I was in an equally beautiful village in Austria, called Hallstatt. The village is built on the side of a steep mountain with a gorgeous lake at the bottom. There is one main road, running parallel to the lake, and the rest of the "roads" are alleys--with staircase after staircase leading to different terraces. We stayed in Hallstadt for a mere two days, but I was enchanted with the lifestyle and preoccupied with the idea of living in a place where you walked everywhere--especially when that walking included SO MANY stairs. It was beautiful and inspiring. My husband's family comes from Switzerland, too (my ancestors are principally German) so I love your references to that wonderful part of the world.

And, once again, I love how you tie fun stories into your healthy changes. Stretching is a great one. I used to call myself a runner, but now I mostly walk--by choice. I also love Yoga. Stretching is definitely so important. If I forget to do it, I feel a big difference. Thanks for the reminder! ;-)

May 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterStephanie

I can attest to the awesomeness of stretching! While I was pregnant, I worked out regularly, including some yoga (my favorite!) It helped immensely with keeping aches and pains to a minimum. Now that I'm recovering, I have a lot more aches and pains than when I was pregnant since I'm not supposed to work out. I can hardly wait to start up again.

May 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSacha

I started taking a Pilates class at my local YMCA. I am in good health but suffered from occasional back pain. After taking the Pilates class, I noticed the back pain was gone. I also swim 3 times a week. My swim instructor recommended Pilates at least once a week to improve our swimming. So far so good. The Pilates class is hard and my balance is improving. But the benefits are worth it.

May 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterStephenie

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