S-T-R-E-T-C-H it Out!

For most of my young life, I felt I was too tall – too tall for boys, too tall for heels, too tall to ever be called cute.  I was always in the back row of class photos and could never be inconspicuous. My posture suffered as I tried in vain to shrink down and blend in, which of course only made me more conspicuous.  A pronounced slump is clearly not attractive! When my self-image finally "grew" into my height, I straightened up to claim my full 5'10 ½ inches.  Now at the age when loss of height can be an issue, I am conscious of maintaining my height and look forward to being measured at my annual physical.  While there is nothing we can do to stop the aging process, there are a number of things we can do to stay tall, including working on posture and alignment, ensuring the health of our skeleton, and of course, stretching out our muscles.

Stretching is one third of a well-rounded workout (the other two being aerobic exercise and strength training).  After you've been contracting the muscles repeatedly in your aerobic workout – walking, running, cycling, swimming, etc. – it's important to lengthen them out by stretching.  The same principle applies to strength training:  after the muscles have been contracting against resistance, they need to be stretched out to their full length.  Short, bunchy muscles will never give you a long, lean line.

Your workout is not over until after you've finished stretching!  I always allow five or ten minutes after my run to do a full-body stretch.  Although running primarily involves the legs, the upper body and core are also integral to the movement.  I perform the stretches as part of my cool-down in the park or outside my building, knowing that if I come back inside I may get distracted and skip them.

It's advisable to stretch every day, even on days you don't exercise.  Take a lesson from your pet dog or cat and notice that they stretch periodically throughout the day.  You can move your joints to help wake up in the morning and get your circulation going.  Or take a few minutes in the evening in order to counteract the demands of your daily activities and discharge tension from the muscles. 

And definitely make it a point to conclude every workout with appropriate stretches for the muscles you used.  Lengthening the muscles will help keep you tall and straight.  Being flexible makes you agile and keeps your movements fluid and youthful.