Most of us have heard the expression “rocking chair mentality”. The reason this image conjures fear in many adults is fear of becoming stiff or crippled. The phrase “use it or lose it” is true in the muscular-skeletal world. As we stop exercising, the human body degrades, constricts and becomes immobile. The adult human body has 650 muscles and 206 bones. Each muscle is connected to bone with a tendon. Ligaments connect bones to bones. Tendons and ligaments are made of dense layered collagen fibers, called fibrous connective tissue. In addition, there is fascia, sheets of connective tissue made primarily of collagen, that attaches, stabilizes, encloses, and separates muscles and other internal organs. Over time the functionality of the muscular-skeletal system can become unhealthy, painful and disabled. In this article I want to discuss major contributors to the loss of mobility as well as look at ways to reverse this process to maintain an active and healthy life.
Maintaining flexibility through regular stretching is critical to muscular-skeletal health. As a Nurse Practitioner who has practiced Worker’s Compensation Orthopaedics for nearly 20 years, I see how loss of flexibility creates the foundation for a multitude of injuries. Imagine the analogy of a dry, stiff tree in a wind storm, whipping side to side. Now imagine a supple, strong and flexible tree in the same wind storm. Which one would you rather be? Now imagine the body during activities of daily life, during repetitive actions or during a basic slip and fall. When muscles and joints are able to sustain expected or unexpected movements, there is a dramatic reduction in the risk of injury. Other benefits of stretching include:
- Improved muscle length and health
- Reduced risk of orthopedic injury during exercise, sports, work and basic activities
- Reduced exercise stress
- Improved muscle performance
- Tension release
- Correction of abnormal posture
- Increased balance and coordination
- Prevent or correct joint degeneration
- Better health and length of joint ligaments
- Greater health and length of tendons that connect muscles to bone
Let us look at some factors that limit flexibility. Constricted fascia and tendons can dramatically limit range of motion and flexibility. Over time connective tissues lose hydration and collagen content causing them to become more fragile, thick and stiff. Flexibility naturally decreases with time and age due to degradation of connective tissues where muscle fibers become fibrotic UNLESS MAINTAINED. Bulky muscles can also adversely affect range of motion. Heavy weight training increases muscle density and mass and needs to be balanced with systematic flexibility training.
Strength training is an equally important factor to tap into the fountain of youth. Weight lifting on a regular basis benefits include.
- Increased metabolic rate and caloric burn
- Improved circulation
- Reduced body fat
- Gained strength
- Decreased risk of osteoporosis
- Reduced risk of injury to spine, muscles and joints
- Improved sports performance
- Burn More Calories
- Increased endorphins that reduce pain, improve mood, and fight depression. An increased in endorphins naturally reduces stress and anxiety.
- Boosted alertness and energy
- Enhanced self esteem
Another tip I highly recommend is to oil massage all your muscles and joints regularly. Ayurveda understands that dryness of the tissues leads to deterioration over the years. Coconut oil, sesame oil and other specialty oils are absorbed transcutaneously to improve the hydration and lubrication of the muscular-skeletal structures. So consider self oil massage daily to your muscles and joints to keep them supple and healthier.
Don’t forget to eat a balanced, healthy diet rich in antioxidants, free of excessive sugar, carbohydrates, preservatives, junk food and artificial colors or flavors. Ayurveda also recommends limiting nightshades (tomatoes, bell pepper, eggplant, potatoes and chilies) to limit systematic inflammation.
Strength, endurance and flexibility can be improved at any age with weight training and proper stretching to increase quality of life. Even my clients in wheelchairs or bed rest benefit from regular stretching and physical conditioning. If you liked this article, please subscribe to receive more, share with a friend or in social media. Stay tuned for more on health and wellness.
Dr. Christie Smirl has over 25 years of medical experience. She completed a Doctorate of Ayurvedic Medicine from American University of Complimentary Medicine as well as a Master of Science and Nurse Practitioner from Loma Linda University. Dr. Christie is also an E-RYT 500 Yoga Teacher Trainer YACEP, Reiki Master/Teacher, Tantric Energy Healer and Musician.
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