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In the last article, I discussed the 5 components of fitness, flexibility being one of them.  Time and time again I hear, “I know I need to stretch”, “I really should try yoga”.  Well, saying it or thinking it is not going to benefit you!  What will it take to get you to spend time on increasing your flexibility and, in turn, your health?  Can the benefits be that awesome?  You decide!

Reduces the risk of osteoarthritis

As we age, the risk for osteoarthritis increases.  Osteoarthritis is prevalent in fingers, knees, hips, toes, neck and lower back. The pain and stiffness caused by osteoarthritis make it difficult to move and do daily tasks.  What yoga and/or flexibility training does is relieve the stiffness of the affected joints.  Improving the range of motion and elasticity.  A recent clinical study of yoga showed significant improvements in physical pain after 8 weeks of yoga.

Reduces low back pain

Low back pain caused by a sedentary lifestyle, sitting, and both osteoarthritis and spinal stenosis-a narrowing of the bone channel occupied by the spinal cord, can be alleviated with flexibility training and/or yoga.  Regular stretching exercises will help with improving range of motion and elasticity relieving the pain and stiffness felt in the lower back area.

Improves posture (this is a big one for me)

We’ve all seen the “hunchback syndrome”.  Hunching over a computer, hunching over cardio equipment, slouching when standing and walking!  Ugh!  “Poor posture is defined by a forward head posture, rounded shoulders and upper back, and forward pressing hips”.  Pain occurs in the neck and in between the shoulder blades.  Flexibility training will loosen those tight muscles and ligaments.  Yoga, in particular, encourages and teaches proper posture.

Improves balance

Tight lower back, hips, hamstrings and quadriceps can lead to imbalance and, in older adults especially, falling.  Improving the range of motion and flexibility of these areas can vastly improve balance.  Yoga often incorporates various balance poses like tree pose, side plank, and extended hand to big toe pose.  These help to elongate and strengthen muscles as well as align the body and improve equilibrium receptors.

Reduces health risks

The list is long.  There is one article from Yoga Journal that sites 38 benefits of yoga, many of which include health risks.  Osteoporosis, high blood pressure, depression, and digestive problems are among the list of health issues that regular yoga and/or flexibility training can reduce the risk of.  Movement, holding stretches, relaxing body and mind all have been proven to improve health and lower changes of illness and disease.

My take

I have had my fair share of injury and pain.  I currently suffer from osteoarthritis in my knees and hands.  I can attest that because of my loyalty to flexibility training with dynamic pre-workout stretches, static after workout stretches and a regular practice of yoga, my symptoms have greatly subsided.  I have been an almost daily runner for over 10 years, completing 8 marathons, it all came to a halt due to overuse injury and osteoarthritis.  Mentally it was very tough to take, physically, even more so. After taking 8 months off of running and incorporating 10-20 minutes of stretching after my workout and at least 2-3 days of yoga practice, I am now running, nearly pain free, 13 miles a week.  Not quite the 20-40 miles a week I used to do, but it beats the alternative and I could not be more grateful for my time in my running shoes again!  I also can sincerely state the mentally I am more a peace. Daily stressors tend to be easier to deal with especially after a few minutes of holding a long stretch or yoga pose.  There’s a commercial out that the tag line reflects exactly how I feel about incorporating flexibility training of some kind in your routine: “Get this one done”.  If you have no time for the gym or your run or whatever activity you do, get up our of your chair and stretch—heck, stay in your chair and do some desk yoga, you’ll be glad you did!

“It’s not your history but your presence on your mat that matters”. ~Sri Krishna Pattabhi Jois