A while back, an acquaintance of mine – also in her mid-50s – started taking yoga classes for the first time in many years. She had noticed that her many hours of sitting at the computer were making her feel stiff and brittle. “What if it’s doing the same thing to my blood vessels?” she wondered. I must confess, dear reader, that the connection between the stretchability (is that a word?) of my muscles and the elasticity of my blood vessels had never really “clicked” until that moment. That’s kind of embarrassing to admit; it’s all connective tissue! And there is a connection. A study in 2009 found that, for people over 40 years of age, trunk flexibility (measured by a sit-and-reach-the-toes test) is an indicator of arterial flexibility. Here’s a quick summary of the procedure and findings. Another study, published earlier this year, found that a 6-month stretching program reduced arterial stiffness, AND that the improvements were lost if the stretching program was discontinued. Once again… use it or lose it!
Endless sitting (at work and during the long commute) is starting to make me feel stiff and brittle, too. To get a little more intentional about my stretching routine, I picked up a copy of Stretching to Stay Young: Simple Workouts to Keep You Flexible, Energized, and Pain Free, by kinesthesiologist Jessica Matthews. The book is nicely organized into three sections: Part I lays out the science and fundamentals of stretching; Part 2 illustrates and explains stretches for each major body part or region; and Part 3 offers stretch routines for different sports, daily activities, and even specific injuries.
I’ve been a reluctant “stretcher” all of my life. I took an elective dance class in college and my inflexibility nearly brought tears to the instructor’s eyes. My first edition copy of the Bob Anderson classic, Stretching, now in its 30th Anniversary Edition, is still in pristine condition because I used it so rarely (where IS that book, by the way?). Time to finally loosen up.