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:
- Increases flexibility
- Improves circulation
- Improves balance and coordination
- Reduces lower back pain risk
- Can improve heart health
- Reduces the tension of stress
- 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.
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.