August 4, 2022

Are You Doing These Stretches to Stay Flexible?

Show Notes

On this episode, Chuck Gaidica is joined by Ann Marie Wakula, certified personal trainer and macro nutrition coach. Together, they discuss how to maintain and improve flexibility at any age.

In this episode of A Healthier Michigan Podcast, we explore:

  • Why flexibility is important to our overall health
  • At what age flexibility should be a larger focus of our day-to-day
  • Exercises and activities we can do to improve our flexibility
  • Tips to best approach stretching safely and correctly

You can learn more about Ann Marie at her website, or Instagram page.

Transcript

Chuck Gaidica:
This is A Healthier Michigan Podcast episode 111. Coming up, we discuss the importance of improving our flexibility to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Welcome to A Healthier Michigan Podcast. This is a podcast that’s dedicated to navigating how we can all improve our health and wellbeing through small, healthy habits we can start right now. I’m your host, Chuck Gaidica. And every other week, we’ll sit down with a certified expert and discuss topics that cover nutrition, fitness, and a whole lot more. And on this episode, we’re going deep into the idea of maintaining or even improving our flexibility to positively impact our physical mobility. That’s a mouthful, but it means we all need to stretch maybe a bit more. With us today is a certified personal trainer, macro nutrition coach, Ann Marie Wakula. It’s good to see you again.

Ann Marie Wakula:
It’s so great to be here. Thanks for having me.

Chuck Gaidica:
Oh, sure thing. And I know you’ve got to be moving and stretching. You have three kids.

Ann Marie Wakula:
Yes.

Chuck Gaidica:
Bernedoodle who keeps you moving. And I know you’re physically active, so this is a really keen topic because it’s not about age, is it?

Ann Marie Wakula:
It is not. This is actually a topic that’s really near and dear to my heart. So I’m excited to be here talking about it today. Yeah. I grew up as a dancer. So flexibility, stretching has always been a really important part of my life. And I also have kids that are athletes. So we stretch every day in this house.

Chuck Gaidica:
When you look at me, do you think dancer? Was that the first thing that popped into mind?

Ann Marie Wakula:
Yeah.

Chuck Gaidica:
Now, all my girls were dancers, so that’s awesome.

Ann Marie Wakula:
Were they?

Chuck Gaidica:
Oh, sure. I’m a dance dad.

Ann Marie Wakula:
That’s awesome.

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah. All the recitals and all this stuff. So flexibility. This idea that it might be something we’re not always focused on until maybe we make a movement that we have been doing our entire lives, picking weeds, planting flowers, bending over to pick up a grandchild. I mean, it’s kind of academic. And then we think, oh, that was either way harder than it used to be, or oh, that hurts. And it didn’t used to hurt. So all of those things can be tied together.

Ann Marie Wakula:
Absolutely. As we age, there isn’t as much lubricating fluid around our joints. So we start to lose water in our tissue and spine, our ligaments shorten, you start to feel really stiff. We lose elasticity around our muscles altogether. So you really need to keep moving and stretching in order to do those day to day activities.

Chuck Gaidica:
So I guess the question would be if you’re noticing those things at that moment, it’s never too late to start or begin what you should have begun anyway. I mean, if you felt like you exerted yourself lifting some boxes, maybe now is still a good time to stretch as long as there’s not some big medical thing.

Ann Marie Wakula:
Absolutely. And what’s really cool about starting a stretching routine is that you can see results fairly quickly within three to four weeks, as long as you’re consistent.

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah. And I have found for myself that there’s a bit of a bonus with other exercises. Like I sometimes get a little tense, tension from my knee down to my calf, through the ankle. So when I do pushups, which to me kind of was counterintuitive. When I get down, I do pushups, I’m stretching right there by my foot and my ankle and I’ll stand up and I’ll think, oh, that was a bonus. I sort of got some stretching, yeah.

Ann Marie Wakula:
Absolutely. Because you’re in that pushup plank position, you got your toes curled under. So you’re nice and flat, straight, engaging your muscles. So that makes sense. What kind of stretches do you like to do?

Chuck Gaidica:
Well, I’m pretty rudimentary in that sense. I will sit on a chair or on the edge of the bed is too much of me to fall off. But I’ll sit at a chair, and I’ll flex my knees up through my thighs. I’ll lay on the floor, sit on the floor, I’ll do the thing where I envy people who look like they can bend straight over and touch the carpet, or touch their nose to their knees on either side. So those are kind of rudimentary. To be fair, I’ve been told by people who do massage that I really should be stretching more. And so I’m really, really interested in this because I know that for me, it’s an important thing and I feel better. And I think I feel, and I’m just speaking for me again, like I’m in touch more with my body, like, oh, maybe I ate too much this weekend. And I kind of felt it when I did my stretch.

Ann Marie Wakula:
Absolutely. You just touched on a lot of things there. You can really start to feel things within your body and even become more grateful for the different types of movements, things that you have in your life. When you stretch, you’re more mindful of what’s going on with your body. So I find that to be a really amazing benefit. It’s just a time for reflection, and gratitude, and even self-awareness when you are taking that time to stretch.

Chuck Gaidica:
And what else about our overall health do you see flexibility being important to then?

Ann Marie Wakula:
Oh gosh. So many things, decreases the risk of injury, whether you’re just doing day to day activities, or if you are an athlete improves mobility, which you said, improves your posture and muscle coordination. There was one when we were … When I took my personal training business from the gym and brought it to an online space, I found myself sitting more. So I went on Etsy and I found some … Well, I just Googled it actually. But then Etsy had some really awesome desk exercises for when you’re sitting throughout the day more often, just different exercises to do while you’re at your desk.

Chuck Gaidica:
Well, what does that mean? What would you do? You’re sitting right now. You mean you could literally exercise while you’re sitting.

Ann Marie Wakula:
Absolutely. Yeah, you can. Well, first of all, my posture, being mindful of your posture. A lot of times we’ll hunch our shoulders over, our neck will be forward. So again, just taking a deep breath and being super mindful of the way you’re sitting. And then inhaling and exhaling, doing like a spinal twist. If you have a armrest on the side of your chair, you can twist, you can even hold onto the side of the chair and reach over, take a nice big side stretch. Neck stretches are huge, taking your head or your hand on your head. And then kind of tilting forward here, and you want to stay in each position, anywhere between 20 and 45 seconds for static stretching. Another cool one too is just taking a big inhale and then exhaling and put your hands on your desk and then kind of pull back from there, and it’ll stretch your shoulders and your back out. So just maybe five minutes of that mindful stretching can make a huge impact on your day and your overall wellbeing.
But going back to some of the benefits too, it even improves balance. You get rid of pain, so it improves your workouts. There’s just so many things, greater range of motion, the benefits just go on and on.

Chuck Gaidica:
And I think that balance thing is sometimes overlooked. I know for me, I’ve read recent articles that talk about longevity. That your health span, and your longevity, your lifespan can be extended when you start to work on that idea that you’ve got more, not only flexibility, but this ability to stay balanced. So whether you’re chasing kids around the house, or you’re getting older, you don’t really think of that too much until of course you’re a little off kilter. And by that time, maybe it’s either age or something else that’s causing it. So I think what I’m hearing from you too, is we can get ahead of the curve on some of this stuff.

Ann Marie Wakula:
You can. If you think about it, when you look at a baby and how active a baby is once they start walking and crawling, they’re moving, moving, moving, and then kids moving, moving, moving, and then the next phase of your life is you’re chasing around your own children or someone else’s children. And then we just start to slow down. So if you don’t use it, you lose it. If you aren’t moving and more active, you’re going to start to lose that mobility, flexibility and balance. So the most important thing to keep doing throughout your entire life is just never stop moving.

Chuck Gaidica:
And I know part of you have a slogan and I won’t quote it because you’ll do a better job, but it doesn’t have to be hard, I guess is part of it. What is your slogan?

Ann Marie Wakula:
Yes. It doesn’t have to be that hard.

Chuck Gaidica:
That’s it? Oh, okay. I got close.

Ann Marie Wakula:
But it’s nutrition. Doesn’t have to be that hard. Does it?

Chuck Gaidica:
And this idea, and I kind of started in this, and I was half joking, but not. This idea that sometimes it seems like these moments creep up on us, where we’re like, oh, and we could have been stretching to get ahead of the curve. I remember a few years ago I saw a cartoon, multiple boxes and it was just some family going on vacation, and they walk out the front door with suitcases and the one box. And then here comes mom and kids with the other box. And then the neighbor across the street yells, “Okay. Have a nice trip.” And the guy who’s going to pick up a suitcase, raises his arm to wave. And in the next box he’s like, oh, basically all he did was wave. And he had pain. That was the moral to the cartoon. And I think sometimes we find ourselves in those positions where we don’t even know why we just did something and it feels like we pulled something and it’s like oh.

Ann Marie Wakula:
It can happen doing anything, any type of day to day activity that just feels normal. That’s unfortunate. But I do feel like if you are taking good care of yourself, and doing everything that you possibly can do to prevent that type of injury, it will help prevent anything coming forward long term.

Chuck Gaidica:
So is there any age, including little ones, from little ones, from 2 years old to 102, we’ll give it the biggest span ever. Is there any age where you really should not be trying to maintain flexibility?

Ann Marie Wakula:
There is no age to start. You start right away. So, interesting fact, and while I was kind of like, preparing for our conversation, I learned that you’re born with 300 bones, which is 94 more than adults. So when you look at a baby and how flexible they are, it’s because their bones, yes, they haven’t infused together yet. So when you start to age and you go through puberty, that’s when you know, you start to lose some of that flexibility. So you really just want to start as early as possible, but it’s never too late to start in saying that.

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah. Yeah. Now you talked about exercises at the desk and I assume you’re not doing them during a live Zoom call so that’s okay. Unless you’re with other nutrition coaches and personal trainers, and you’re all trying to do your thing. But for the rest of us, if we’re not sitting, give us some idea of exercises for stretching, et cetera, that we should be employing daily, every other day, or in our weekly lives.

Ann Marie Wakula:
Yeah. So the first thing you want to do is kind of assess your body to see how you feel. So I would say take a few minutes and do some mindful breathing, inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth and then just do a self check from top to bottom to see if there’s something that is bothering you that you want to focus on. And then there are a lot of resources out there to help you find some different stretches for what may be bothering you. Not only are there resources through certain apps, but then there’s people too. There’s Pilates classes, yoga classes, personal trainers, and even physical therapists that you could start with, they could assess your body and figure out where you might need some tweaking, and then teach you the proper exercises, and the proper form to do it so that you don’t injure yourself. Crazy enough, if you push yourself even trying to stretch a little bit, you may end up coming out on the end sore. So definitely want to do that.
And then once you pinpoint, what’s bothering you, find those exercises. So a couple things that I love to do. I love to just sit on the floor, or even at my desk, or standing depending on how your equilibrium is, or if you’re able to bend over, and just reach for your toes and hang there. It is wonderful. But if you’re in a seated position, you can take a nice, big inhale and then exhale, if you’re on the floor, reaching for your toes, that’s a nice stretch for your hamstrings and your glutes. If you’re not able to bend over all the way and trust me, I am not. Even as a trainer, I have very tight glutes and hamstrings. There’s a lot of different things that you can go purchase. Like just a band will help you. You could tie it, put it right around the bottom of your foot and then pull your foot towards your body and lean forward. So that’s a wonderful stretch to do. Just taking your arm across your body will stretch out your shoulders and your back.
You can use a doorway in your home to stretch your chest, just put your arm on the doorway and lean forward. That’s a nice, easy one. So you really don’t need any equipment, but if you want some extra equipment, there’s lots of things out there too. Even like, are you familiar with the yoga roller?

Chuck Gaidica:
Wait, let’s see which one? Oh yeah.

Ann Marie Wakula:
This is awesome for the spine, and also for all of the muscles down the spine and even your shoulders and your neck. And they come in different heights, small, medium and large. We use that every day in our home. And then we also use a foam roller.

Chuck Gaidica:
So what’s the difference between … I noticed that was a higher, the yoga thing, but why is it? Is it hollow? Is there something to it that’s different than a foam roller?

Ann Marie Wakula:
It is. This is more for your back, spine and neck. Just kind of to roll on it. The foam roller you can use for any part of your body. You can roll on your side for stretching your IT band and hips. You can also use it for your back if you’d like, arms, there’s a lot of different exercises. Inner thighs, calves, quads, again, just being mindful too, stretching. There is a level of uncomfortableness to it, but you should never experience any pain. And if you’re feeling like it’s painful, you may want to search for a modification or slow down while you’re doing the stretch. Because you certainly don’t want to tense up and injure yourself while you’re doing this type of exercise.

Chuck Gaidica:
Well, can I just say that sometimes, and it may just be me, that foam roller thing. If I go on my side from my hips down my … Come on now, you’re saying there shouldn’t be any pain. There’s sometimes some pain.

Ann Marie Wakula:
There’s some pain. Yeah. So you kind of just want to find that tension spot, and then just sit there for a few seconds, but …

Chuck Gaidica:
Wait. Do what? Stay there for a few seconds.

Ann Marie Wakula:
Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Chuck Gaidica:
Pain is good then? Just get it out. Work through it.

Ann Marie Wakula:
Breathe. Don’t forget to breathe. So important.

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah. Well you mentioned bands, and I’ll throw in this idea because it wasn’t long ago I opened a suitcase to pack to go somewhere quick. And we had some bands in there because that’s the other upside of bands. You can throw them in a suitcase and travel anywhere. You’re in a hotel, you can use them on the door, you can use them on the floor. So those are really helpful.

Ann Marie Wakula:
I love exercise bands for so many reasons. For the stretching aspect and for the benefits for muscles and working out.

Chuck Gaidica:
So with all the people that you see online and then in person, the idea, I think you kind of mentioned three weeks, but is that by your experience, what truly is the amount of time it may take for us to start to see improvements? Or could it be within just a couple days?

Ann Marie Wakula:
Yeah. I mean a couple days, especially with the, in your mindset with that gratitude we were talking about earlier, taking time for yourself. So many men and women feel guilty taking that time for themselves. Like personal self care is so important. It really is. So you may be feeling it in your mindset in a few days. And then in a few weeks, you’ll start to see those improvements within your overall daily performance as well.

Chuck Gaidica:
So when it comes to stretching and doing it safely, are there places we shouldn’t be doing these things? I guess if you’re seated in the middle of your family room floor, there’s not much that can go wrong until your dog comes running in and gives you kisses. But if you’re standing or if you’re leaning in a doorway or am I off? Are there places maybe we shouldn’t be doing things in case we do get a little off balance?

Ann Marie Wakula:
Yeah. I would definitely find a quiet space. And if you tend to get dizzy, if you’re bending over in a standing position, I would take those types of stretches, starting if you’re beginning, start off slow, start on the floor in a seated position, try to make sure you’re in a room by yourself if you’re just getting started. Definitely find some guidance, even if it’s through an app, if you’re not working one on one with a person, just so you can look and see how they are performing the exercise and then assess how you should be doing it and just take it nice and slow.

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah. And when do you think we should seek professional guidance or help then. If obviously a PT, a physical therapist may be something you get a prescription for, you’ve got an injury or could be just that you need to work on something. But when it comes to getting someone like a coach, or someone like a trainer, or maybe even it’s a masseuse who understands how to help stretch you, do you feel like that’s a help for some people?

Ann Marie Wakula:
I do feel like it’s helpful because we see things that you may not be seeing because you’re not looking at your body. I even trained with other trainers and they’re still correcting me, even though I have the knowledge because you’re not always paying attention to what you’re doing movement wise. So they may be able to tweak my hips or tell me I need to do this or that. So even as a professional, we need help from other professionals.

Chuck Gaidica:
I’ve noticed, I’ve kind of a tricky left knee and it’s from years, dozens of years of jogging, just hitting the pavement and going. And I think it was a friend or maybe it was my brother. We were out for a walk and he said, “Why are you limping?” And I thought, I don’t limp at all. Well, it made me a bit self-conscious, but it also told me, change posture, make sure my gait is different, because what I don’t want to have happen is to have some other issues down the road with a hip or with other things. So to your point about a third party kind of peeking in the window on your health, I find that to be extraordinarily helpful if you have somebody who can speak truth into your situation.

Ann Marie Wakula:
Definitely. Definitely. Yeah. And even for that knee, you may want to grab that foam roller.

Chuck Gaidica:
Is that …

Ann Marie Wakula:
Yeah. Roll out IT band and quads.

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah. So that means not just on the side then. I’ve got to roll it down toward the front of the knee. Yeah. See, I’m sorry. Our episode is over. I’m sorry. I’ve got to go.

Ann Marie Wakula:
You know what, I was going to say, do that post run though. Before you do any type of physical activity, there’s two types of stretches: dynamic stretching and static stretching. So dynamic stretching is going to get you ready for physical activity and it’s going to help your muscles be more reactive to what’s to come. So that would be like leg swings, arm swings, walking, lunges, things like that are getting you ready for the activity. And then post workout or post run, race, game, whatever you may be doing, you want to do more static type stretching to elongate the muscle and help it for repair and recovery.

Chuck Gaidica:
And so that includes the foam roller, you say?

Ann Marie Wakula:
Yeah, that could include the foam roller. Sometimes people do also, they do the foam roller beforehand, but I would say that dynamic stretching would probably be best before you go on a run.

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah. So what else are we missing in our conversation about flexibility? Is there anything else that you think should be jumping off the page at us?

Ann Marie Wakula:
One of the tips I wanted to give today for sure is just to find a time. A lot of people ask, should I do it in the morning? Should I do it in the evening? What’s the best time? It’s the best time for you and what you can make routine for yourself. So if you get up in the morning and you feel really stiff, getting out of bed, take that five minutes and do some morning stretches, it’ll set the tone for your day and make sure that you’re doing it consistently in the morning so that it becomes part of your routine and you’re not skipping it. If you have a very stressful job where you’re sitting at your desk a lot, maybe that’s like a lunchtime ritual that you begin, or maybe it’s something that you do at the end of the day to prepare yourself to relax and have a restful sleep at night. Just something that becomes more routine or that can become more routine for yourself so that you do it often.

Chuck Gaidica:
And all of those day parts may have a different kind of moment of stress relief. Like at night before bed, you may not want to be doing the foam roller or the intense …

Ann Marie Wakula:
No, you’re right. You are right on that.

Chuck Gaidica:
Now that may be the end of your day gratitude. And you’re just trying to wind down some breathing stuff. But early in the day, again, it’s just anecdotal for me. I can’t start having breakfast or even a cup of coffee and then go, oh, I forgot to stretch. And I get down and do it. It feels absolutely different because I’ve got a fuller stomach, not a full stomach.

Ann Marie Wakula:
Yeah. My sister-in-law and my husband both, they get up first thing in the morning before they eat or drink anything. So while the coffee’s brewing, I love to do things while coffee’s brewing, then coffee’s kind of like your reward for finishing. What you’re doing or what you were going to do. So they start their day with stretches and they feel really good. They start the day on a high note. So I love morning stretching, I do personally.

Chuck Gaidica:
Oh, reward now. I’m like a trained dog. I’m already wanting to go get some now.

Ann Marie Wakula:
Oh, I love it.

Chuck Gaidica:
So as we wrap things up, so give us some major takeaways from our discussion today, Ann Marie, of things we should be thinking about because it really is not that hard to get started.

Ann Marie Wakula:
It’s not. So I’ve got five tips. The first one, like I said, schedule a time and day that works for you, get it in, make sure it’s consistent. Identify one or two body parts where your range of motion feels tight or limited and focus on stretching those areas. And then either find someone or find a resource to help you, whether it is again, a physical therapist, personal trainer, a yoga instructor, Pilates instructor, or downloading an app. There’s a lot of really good ones. There’s one called ROMWOD, Range of Motion Workout of the Day. StretchIt is for beginners. You can also start with a few different tools like we talked about, using a stretch band, a foam roller, or the yoga circle that I showed, or we talked about earlier. Don’t be afraid to listen to your body and modify your stretches if you need to. And if you’re feeling any major pain, maybe you do need those modifications. So just be very mindful. And then the last one, as I already mentioned, be consistent. Consistency is what’s going to show you the best results.

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah. And even with those devices you mentioned, and that gear, none of those things should be breaking the bank.

Ann Marie Wakula:
Not at all.

Chuck Gaidica:
Those are not, you’re taking over your whole garage and putting, installing a whole new workout center. This is stuff that you can afford to do and it’s going to stay with you for a while if you use it.

Ann Marie Wakula:
Yes. And it’s not necessary, you can do stretches without any of those tools. But they’re there if you want them.

Chuck Gaidica:
Well, you’ve helped us a lot. You’ve helped me a lot when I’m going to sit up straighter now and I’m going hit the doorway and do my stretch. That’s what I use. I use, I think it’s a similar thing, when you were pulling forward, laying down on the desk.

Ann Marie Wakula:
Yeah, on the desk.

Chuck Gaidica:
I just go up to the doorway and I push myself into the doorway and I can actually feel and hear some popping in the back shoulder muscles, like down through the shoulder blades. It’s very simple. I don’t go in quick so I hurt myself, but all this stuff is just using the house, use the house.

Ann Marie Wakula:
Using the house. You’re right. You can put your leg up on a coffee table, stretch forward. I mean, yeah. You can just use the house.

Chuck Gaidica:
Well, Ann Marie Wakula, it is so good to see you again. Thanks for all the input and all the help today.

Ann Marie Wakula:
It’s so good to see you too, Chuck. Thank you so much for having me.

Chuck Gaidica:
Oh sure thing, Ann Marie is a certified personal trainer and a macro nutrition coach. And obviously she’s helped us along with this idea of flexibility and getting in some stretches today. Thank you for listening to A Healthier Michigan Podcast. It’s brought you by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. If you like the show and you want to know more, you can go online, you can check us out at ahealthiermichigan.org/podcast, or you can leave us a review or rating on Apple Podcasts or Stitcher. To get new episodes on your smartphone or tablet, be sure to subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or your favorite podcast app. I’m Chuck Gaidica. Be well.