Q:During the past few months I’ve gained some weight and have become more sluggish, achy, and stiff. I follow a reasonable vegetarian diet and restarted my walking routine, getting more than 10,000 steps a day consistently over the past three weeks. Still, I am not as I was a year ago. What else can I do?
A:Without knowing your actual situation and medical history, we can give only general advice. Check with your doctor to be sure no medical issues are involved. That said, during the pandemic the average person surveyed has had a 15- to 29-pound weight gain, reportedly because of stress, less exercise, more sitting, and more snacking. You’re not alone.
“Normalizing” oneself through dietary adjustment, appropriate exercise resumption, and effective stress management is wonderful. Yet an easily overlooked factor is stretching—a beneficial part of overall conditioning or reconditioning regimens.
If you’re like many people these days who find it increasingly difficult to reach items on the top shelf or in the lowest kitchen cupboards, or ache when they have to turn their heads to look back to parallel-park or to see cars in the lane next to them, then stretching may be the answer. (Yes, we know there are intelligent cars that will park for you and indicate whether something is behind or on the side of you!)
Some simple stretches can improve your function and flexibility, ease your aches and pains, and even improve your balance and prevent falls. Stretching is not just for athletes; it’s for all who want to get in shape or become fit, especially after the COVID “sit-and-stare disease.”
Enter your stretching routine a few minutes into your walk, just when you break a sweat, and then repeat it after you’re finished. Warm muscles are more relaxed and more pliable than cold ones, so warm up and then stretch.
For specific muscles or muscle groups, gentle stretching to the point of tension, then holding them in position for 15 to 30 seconds, allows the muscles, tendons, and ligaments time to accommodate to the stretch reflex. Caution: Don’t overstretch, and don’t force the muscle to remain contracted. Stretching should be felt but not painful.
Stretch systematically at least four times per week; once today and then again “whenever” will be ineffective. Safe, regular repetition over time will give results.
For professional help, a physical therapist can assess your muscle strength, posture, and flexibility and tailor-make your routine.
Stretching keeps the muscles flexible, strong, and healthy, and we all need that flexibility to maintain good muscle function and joint range of motion. Without stretching, muscles shorten and become tight, and when called on for activity they’re weak and unable to extend all the way. This increases the risk for aches, strains, and muscle damage.
While you’re at it, why not stretch your mind on God’s Word too? Knowing God intimately is essential on the “home stretch”!
Peter N. Landless, a board-certified nuclear cardiologist, is director of Adventist Health Ministries at the General Conference. Zeno L. Charles-Marcel, a board-certified internist, is an associate director of Adventist Health Ministries at the General Conference.