Stretching: Beyond your Muscles

This is number nine in a series on the Real-time Results of exercise, the ones that will make your brain want to exercise. 

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In the last blog, I highlighted some of the mindsets about stretching that tend to get in the way of motivation to stretch. Today, let’s update your thinking about stretching so it leads to motivation to stretch and more comfort and freedom in your body.  

The (new) Real-time Results of stretching

We used to think of stretching as a way to warm up or cool down from exercise. Then research put a big question mark on that belief, and we started wondering if stretching was helping or hurting. Now scientists have a better way to understand what is actually happening in the body with stretching. What we have assumed happens in the body when we stretch in the past is being replaced with a better understanding about what is actually happening. Scientists are realizing that tight muscles are, in part, a sign of muscle weakness, so flexibility and strength go hand in hand. They are also discovering there are many instant health and well-being benefits to stretching. Instead of thinking that stretching is only about lengthening muscles, we know stretching is doing much more.

Stretching: beyond your muscles

The circulatory system is responsible for transporting blood to and from cells. Blood carries oxygen and fuel to muscles as well as fluids that support cell function and health. While strength training and cardio mainly use your larger muscles, stretching can increase blood flow to even the smallest vessels in the body.    

The lymph system’s job is to maintain a healthy immune system by absorbing fluid from the blood so it can be transported to the spleen. The spleen acts as a filter, helping your body fight infection and detecting potentially dangerous bacteria and viruses. Your spleen and your lymph nodes create white blood cells to defend your body against these ‘invaders’. However, this important system in the body needs you to move for all that to happen. Unlike the circulatory system, your lymph system does not have its own pump. It relies on movement to move the lymph fluid through the body. Stretching can provide that movement instantly, even in the smallest vessels in the body. For more information, including a great video with images to help you visualize this system as you move, click here.  

The fascia system is a network of connective tissue. It used to be thought that it just held the body together. However, as our understanding of the role of this tissue in our body has increased, it is now considered a system (like your cardiovascular system) because its cells communicate with other cells in other systems. Fascia has been described as a three-dimensional web-like body stocking that surrounds every structure of the body. It wraps us like Saran Wrap about 2mm beneath the skin. Fascia changes with how you hold your body during the day, especially when you are still.   It also changes with injuries and with emotions that are held in your body.

Check out this youtube video that shows what this connective tissue looks like and how it changes with movement (this is a two minute clip of a longer video also available for viewing). The image of what this tissue looks like and acts like below your skin is fascinating and can be very motivating. 

The important point is that fascia is always changing and adapting to what is happening in your body and brain moment by moment. Studies are showing that stretching helps the fascia stay more elastic, which could be a main reason why it reduces stiffness and improves mobility. The effects of stretching on the fascia seem to last for anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours, which is another reason why stretching is best done as movement breaks sprinkled through your day.  

In addition, we are just beginning to understand the importance of the cells in the fascia system for our health, immune system function, and our well-being. 

The nervous system is what controls muscles. When you stretch, especially mindfully, you are calming the stress response in your body and brain, which in turn helps relax muscles.   When a muscle is tight, it is your nervous system trying to protect your muscles from tearing. When you stretch regularly, you are helping your nervous system build up tolerance of movements, so it is less ‘protective’ of the muscles.  

A muscle spasm is when your nervous system has to take extreme measures to protect a muscle that is holding a lot of tension. The spasm happens to prevent it from tearing. That spasm is not the result of that one movement, but rather the accumulation of tightness over time. The movement that resulted in a spasm was the final straw, so to speak. Regular stretching helps to keep that tightness from accumulating.  

Your present moment attention when you stretch is what makes it most effective. When you push a stretch to an uncomfortable or painful level, however, the nervous system has already started protecting the muscles, creating more tension rather than less. That’s why mindfulness is so important when stretching—you can find that just-right level and not overstretch, causing the opposite result to what you want from stretching.

Bottom Line: Your whole body, as well as your mind, benefits from stretching by improving fluid flow to your body and building tolerance of movements, especially in areas that do not get moved that often. I think of stretching as cleaning those little corners of a room that you might miss in a quick cleaning job. It also helps maintain elasticity by ‘reorganizing’ the fibers of connective tissue that surround muscles and holds us together. Clearly, the Real-time Results of stretching go way beyond your muscles!

 

The Win-Win Special ENDS at MIDNIGHT

The Win-Win Special ENDS at MIDNIGHT tonight.

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  1. Make a $45 tax deductible donation to the Enjoy Life Education scholarship fund by the end of today, April 22, 2019.
  2. Email me the receipt at janet@ExercisingWELL.com.
  3. I will send you a coupon code to receive your first month of the Exercising WELL coaching program FREE.

 

Help a teen get more out of life through the

 The Enjoy Life Education Leadership Academy.

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Win by Building Inner Confidence

It’s pay-it-forward week at Exercising WELL and we are running a Win/Win Special.  From now until April 22nd, 2019, when you donate $45 to the Enjoy Life Education scholarship fund, you get your first month of the Exercising WELL Coaching Program FREE.  

Confidence can be reliant on external sources or it can be an inner sense of knowing your own strengths. Studies show inner confidence is much more reliable and resilient through the ups and downs of life1. When you take advantage of the Win/Win special, you help a teen build inner confidence through the Enjoy Life Leadership Academy and grow your own inner confidence that you know how to be Exercising WELL.

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Enjoy Life Leadership Academy

Students build confidence though a stronger sense positive self-worth. From the moment students enter the academy, they are encouraged to not only be who they are, but also celebrate who they are with confidence and pride. They not only do this for themselves, but for each other. Students are immersed in a culture of self-worth that builds a natural and lasting inner confidence. Check out this 60-second video to see how that is done.  

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Exercise success often is measured by external sources, such as the scale, the activity monitor, or a fitness challenge. But studies show these external sources for confidence are like building a house on sand, washed away by the next stressful event in life. Through the Exercising WELL online programs and personalized weekly coaching, you learn research-backed strategies for being internally guided and self-motivated. You gain solid inner confidence for exercise that carries over to other habits for your health and well-being.

  1. What is the Self-Determination Theory of Motivation?

Win Through the Power of Positivity

It’s pay-it-forward week at Exercising WELL and we are running a Win/Win Special.  From now until April 22nd, 2019, when you donate $45 to the Enjoy Life Education scholarship fund, you get your first month of the Exercising WELL Coaching Program FREE.  

Research shows positivity broadens your perspective, so you notice more opportunities, and helps you build long term resiliency1. When you take advantage of the Win/Win special, you help a teen build positive self-worth and inner confidence through the Enjoy Life Leadership Academy and strengthen your own positive approach to self-care while growing your inner confidence  that you know how to be Exercising WELL.

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Enjoy Life Leadership Academy

From the moment you walk into the Leadership Academy, you are overwhelmed by the energy of positivity—it’s contagious! Every moment is filled with this positive perspective and support for each other.  Check out this brief video to see for yourself. This is not a Pollyanna-type positivity, where talking about negative experiences is taboo. This is the place where life’s challenging experiences are embraced head-on, through activities like group challenges and leaders sharing their stories of resiliency. Life’s challenges are transformed through positivity and help students build resiliency through positive qualities like curiosity, creativity, and empathy.

Exercising WELL Coaching Program

Because our brain is designed to keep us safe by looking for problems, it’s easy to get stuck in the muck of life and stray from your best intentions to exercise regularly. This is normal but not helpful when it comes to building habits for well-being. Health coaching uses research from positive psychology to guide you to get yourself unstuck and avoid the swamp of self-doubt and frustration of life getting in the way. As your coach, I help you sort through your experiences with exercise each week in a way that you lets you use life’s challenges as a tool for learning how to exercise through the ups and downs of life. Research on habits shows that when something is a positive experience, it becomes a lasting habit. Making exercise a positive experience requires both an understanding of brain science and exercise science. This powerful combination is what makes Exercising WELL unique.

  1. Research from The Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania

Win through Mindfulness

It’s pay-it-forward week at Exercising WELL and we are running a Win/Win Special.   From now until April 22nd, 2019, when you donate $45 to the Enjoy Life Education scholarship fund, you get your first month of the Exercising WELL Coaching Program FREE.  

The research on the benefits of mindfulness is wide-reaching and overwhelmingly convincing. We all can benefit from more mindfulness skills1. Teens growing up in this distractible world need it more than ever. As adults, we need mindfulness to adapt to this age of technology and distractions.

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Enjoy Life Leadership Academy

A major component of the leadership academy is reminding students to live in the now. Students are constantly reminded to be present and encouraged to adopt strategies in their daily life to remember to make the most of each moment. The best part is that it’s done in a way that is fun, lighthearted, and enjoyable so students genuinely embrace living with more mindful presence.

Exercising WELL Coaching Program

Since your body only operates in the present moment, exercising with mindfulness is the only way to know how to exercise. Because so many of the reasons we exercise are for future rewards, such as weight loss, it is easy to think that exercise is just something to ‘get through’ so you can check it off the to do list. Yet, this how we miss the most valuable tool—the wisdom of our own Inner Trainer. Check out how one Exercising WELL member describes her newfound enjoyment of exercise with mindfulness: “I had a sense of joy while walking up a hill this week. I just felt strong and right and totally absorbed in the great walk, no distraction trying to take the hill. It was almost an exhilarating feeling. Definitely well-being.” Through Exercising WELL ,you learn how to use your Inner Trainer to be self-guided through mindful-presence and exercise becomes a whole new, more enjoyable, AND more motivating experience.

  1. The Science of Mindfulness by Dainel Siegel, Mindful