I’ll bet if you’re reading this, you think you need to stretch more.
Stretching. It’s the one goal that many people have and few people actually make time for, even though they know it’s on their list of “healthy choices” to integrate into their daily schedule.
Why do so many people think they need to stretch?
Because they feel “tight.” They feel “stiff.” They live a sedentary lifestyle. They have aches and pains and figure that stretching their muscles is a great way to relieve pain. For many, it’s lifestyle habits, specifically overuse of technology, that’s leading to tight muscles all over the body.
Why else do they think this? Because the media, yoga teachers, fitness instructors, friends, family all say, “You’ve gotta stretch! It’s part of a healthy lifestyle!”
Well, I’m here to tell you: Stretching isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Let’s take a look at why we feel so uncomfortable.
As I mentioned, I’d suggest that the main reason most of us feel so out of sorts in our body is because we spend way too much time tied to technology, from computers to cellphones to television.
What do we do on these devices?
- Watch TV
- Stream, create, and share content
- Send and respond to emails
- Listen to music
- Play video games
I think you get the point. So, let’s think about some of the physical scenarios that are involved in doing these activities:
- Using our vision to focus on a highlighted screen
- Dealing with the stresses that comes from work emails
- Sitting for an extended period of time
- Overloading our nervous system with information
I could go on, but I think you get the point here too.
Let’s face it. We live in a digital age.
With that comes huge opportunities for sharing, connecting, expanding our reach, building businesses and improving our overall quality of life, to some degree. However, it all comes at a cost which, oftentimes, is to our physical body (and mind as well, but for now, let’s just focus on the body).
What are some of the physical impacts that technology has on our body? Here is a list of a few:
- Lower back pain from extended time sitting
- Eyestrain and headaches from extended screen time
- Insomnia from an inability to put away technology before bed
- Overly contracted muscles in the front of the body from sitting too long
- Overly stretched muscles in the body of the body or those just underutilized from lack of exercise
- Overall deconditioning in certain muscles due to lack of multi-planar movement
- Neck and shoulder pain from hunching over the phone and computer.
So, how can we “move smarter” in this digital age?
Here are a few tips that you can immediately implement to manage the effects of technology so YOU are in control rather than all these devices, platforms and activities:
Rather than thinking that “stretching” is the way to go, think “movement.”
The more we move in all planes of movement, the healthier our body will be. Think of it this way: sitting all day leaves the muscles that flex the hips in a state of passive shortening or contraction. Running every day leaves these same muscles in a regular state of active contraction. Unless we do the opposite movement regularly, those muscles will be overly tight and the muscles that do the opposite will be overly stretched and under utilized.
Cross training can be an effective strategy to building balance in the body.
Doing the same kind of exercise over and over again with no variation can be great from the perspective of building skill, but may lack the variation necessary to strengthen as well as lengthen as many muscles as possible. Yoga is such an effective way of exercising because by its nature, you move through all planes of movement. If yoga is not your preferred mode of exercise, just be sure to use different types of exercise to ensure you’re building strength, stretch and balance in the body. So, for instance, if you run a lot, make sure you stretch. If you take spinning classes, be sure to include stretching as well. If you do a lot of yoga, add in some specific strength training, especially around “pulling” motions as yoga does not have any of that movement.
Bring movement into your day as much as you can.
From walking to getting your lunch to parking far away from the door to the grocery store, to taking the subway or making walks part of your exercise plan, moving regularly is key to preventing and counteracting some of the problems that come with extensive sitting. If you lack the fitness related motivation to build these habits into your day, make a list. Carry it with you so you’re inspired as you glance at it. You could put it on your phone, on a post-it on your bathroom mirror or in your wallet. You could set a reminder to get up frequently throughout the day. These are all small ways to build healthy lifestyle habits into your life.
Do the opposite.
This means if you spend time sitting hunched-over all day, find ways to open the front of the body. This could be through exercise, or could be through lying on your back with a bolster or rolled up blanket in line with your spine to stretch the muscles in the front of the chest. You could try sitting up tall, interlacing your fingers behind your back, and squeezing your shoulder blades together to contract the muscles in your back (the rhomboids) that get overstretched when hunching all day. “Doing the opposite” is a way to build in smart counteractions to every overdone action you take all day.
As with all things that involve building healthy habits and smart goals, set your intention and proceed. But when you waver off the path, as we all do, just get back into it with no judgment or drama.