Hello, friends! We all know that a key part of being fit - in addition to working our hearts with cardiovascular exercise and our muscles with strength training - is including stretching in our exercise regime to improve our flexibility. And yet with the exception of the dedicated yogis out there, stretching is often the part of a workout that most of us skip (or skimp) because we are pressed for time and don’t think it pays the same dividends as more vigorous types of training.
The research suggests, however, that flexibility training is as critical to aging gracefully as cardio and strength training, and it may even be the “fountain of youth” when it comes to fitness, as proclaimed by Tony Horton, the uber fit and unbelievably youthful 58-year-old creator of P90X. Certainly, if we do not continue to work on our flexibility as we age, we will end up becoming one of those individuals who can’t bend over to tie his or her shoes, and we will be more prone to injury and incapacity in our later years.
The good news is that working on your flexibility does not require much time. Just 5 minutes of stretching a day is generally sufficient, and there are numerous free online resources to help you develop a daily flexibility routine, for example this quick-and-easy routine from Real Simple. There are also incredible resources to help you add yoga into your life (do a search on YouTube), including my new favorite resource, which is designed for beginning yogis, Beachbody On Demand's 3 Week Yoga Retreat.
While flexibility training is important for your physical health, learning to be flexible in all aspects of your life is important for your mental health, your emotional health and for the health of your relationships.
I am someone who has never been particularly flexible. I have never been able to do a split. I do not enjoy yoga - although I aspire to be the type of person who enjoys finding her zen. I am a dedicated to-do lister and find great pleasure in creating lengthy and ambitious daily to-do lists and diligently crossing off each item on the list before the end of the day. I am committed to be timely at all times, and I do not have much tolerance for being late or for those who are late. I do not like clutter, and I do not like things in my house being out of place.
Basically, both my blood type and my personality type are A+.
Since having my first child 12 week ago, however, I have learned the importance of working on my flexibility. During the early weeks of Beautiful Baby A’s (BBA’s) life, I realized that I would have to minimize the number of items on my to-do lists, and now I have come to terms with the fact that it is better to ditch the daily to-do list entirely. Instead of being the person who arrives perfectly on time (or likely a little early), I now ensure I give others a range of time at which I might arrive, since you never know whether a nap will go long or whether there will be a last-minute diaper change or feeding. And with little time or energy to spend on housework, I am learning to accept that my dining room table has toys strewn across it and that there are unwashed dishes currently sitting in the kitchen sink.
This transition has not come easy, and it is very much a work in progress – I am only in the beginning stages. But like yoga, learning to be more flexible in other aspects of your life is a practice – a journey. A process of self-development and self-improvement that is as critical to your ability to age gracefully as stretching your muscles. Because research suggests that having a Type A personality increases your risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and depression, among other ailments.
So, I encourage you to spend some time each day focusing on your flexibility. Touch your toes. Do some side bends. Let some items on your to-do list slide. And leave your bed unmade. Commit to practicing flexibility in all aspects of your life, and you may just be setting the stage to live a longer, healthier and happier life.
Until next time, be happy and healthy,
Hello, friends! "It takes a village." I've heard this saying many times, generally when someone is describing what it takes to raise a child, but I honestly never really understood the importance of having a "village" until I gave birth to my own child 11 weeks ago. Since The Man and I do not live in the same state as our families, we have spent most of the past few months taking care of Beautiful Baby A (BBA) on our own, which has been challenging at times, highlighting the benefit of being surrounded by family and close friends to help with baby.
The need for a village is not limited to childrearing. Our ancestors - dating back to the earliest days of civilization - organized in communities to provide support and protection in all areas of life, because even cavemen and cavewomen recognized that together we are stronger. Only in the recent years have we strayed from this practice in the U.S., often living far away from our families in neighborhoods in which we don't even know our neighbors.
How many of you live in a neighborhood in which everyone has large front porches? Probably not many of us (and certainly not me). I am convinced that the demise of the front porch, which served as a venue for relaxation and conversation with neighbors and passersby, along with our culture of busy-ness (i.e., too busy to stroll through your neighborhood or relax on the front porch, even if you are fortunate enough to have one), are partially responsible for the demise of a sense of community in our "communities."
When it comes to wellness, surrounding ourselves with a village of like-minded individuals is also critical to achieving our health goals. In fact, the key to the success of the most successful weight loss and fitness programs is that they foster a sense of community among the program participants.
Weight Watchers is the world's oldest and most recognized diet program, and what set this program apart from any other since its inception in 1963 is its focus on bringing together participants for support and camaraderie - initially, in the form of gatherings at founder Jean Nidetch's home, and later at meetings in Weight Watchers centers. While the Weight Watchers diet itself has changed numerous times throughout the years and has never been more than a play on the old calories in/calories out equation, the one constant, and arguably the key to the program's success for over half a century, is the sense of community, common purpose and accountability built into the program through its regular meetings.
In more recent years, the CrossFit craze can largely be explained by the unique sense of community and accountability that is fundamental to the program. While weight lifting and high-intensity interval training can be found in numerous other strength-and-conditioning programs, the focus of CrossFit on fostering a supportive community among its members sets it apart from the rest. If you have ever been to a CrossFit class, you have likely experienced first-hand the power of a group cheering on fellow classmates and high-fiving each other after a particularly difficult WOD ("Workout of the Day"). In fact most CrossFit boxes (a.k.a. gyms) market this community spirit as much as they market the CrossFit workout, and it is common to find a calendar of box-sponsored social and service events prominently displayed on its website alongside its calendar of CrossFit classes.
Even Beachbody, the fitness giant that produces programs like P90X and Insanity, has mastered the art of making what otherwise would be solitary, at-home fitness programs a community event. After the company began selling its products through coaches who sponsor "Challenge Groups" by virtually connecting individuals who are doing the same program at the same time, Beachbody's success and profits soared. The company has even recently launched an app (because "there's an app for that") that is designed to better connect Challenge Group participants with each other and their coach. It is clear that the best of the best in the health and wellness industry find a way to leverage the power of human connection to sell their products and services while sparking life-changing transformations.
In the bestselling book The Blue Zones, National Geographic Fellow Dan Buettner summarizes the 9 commonalities between the very different lifestyles of the cultures in the world with the healthiest and longest-living populations. One of the commonalities is that these populations are part of the "right tribe," i.e., social networks that favorably shape their health behaviors. "If you look at cultures around the world where people are living the longest, it's never because individuals are trying to do it," says Buettner. "They live in a culture that nudges them to do the right things and makes the right decisions for them."
If you have struggled to achieve your health goals - weight loss, improved fitness or performance, increased energy, better sleep habits, reduced stress, etc. - and you have tried to go it alone, stop looking for the next best diet or the next best fitness program or the latest and greatest book. Instead, start looking for a community of like-minded individuals with similar goals who can provide support and accountability as you go through the journey together. These communities can be in-person or virtual. They can take the form of running groups, meditation circles, fitness classes, online forums, Facebook groups, cooking clubs, etc. The key is that there is great power in a group to motivate and inspire, when motivating and inspiring ourselves is very often the biggest obstacle in the way of us achieving our goals.
Ultimately, we are stronger together. Find your village, and I guarantee you will experience great success.
Until next time, be happy and healthy,
Hello, friends! I’m Kathleen, the Kettlebell Mama. Welcome to bells & peppers – a blog dedicated to all things related to fitness, nutrition and healthy living. As an athlete, trainer, nutritionist, cooking instructor, attorney, senior executive and new mom, I have learned how to balance my personal health and fitness goals with paying the bills, spending quality time with family and friends and pursuing a demanding career – without losing my mind! My goal is to inspire, empower and provide you with simple strategies to help you become your healthiest self in a balanced, realistic and sustainable way. Feel free to read more about my story here. Thanks for visiting bells & peppers!