Featured, Main Blog

Easing into Exercise with Lupus – Stretching Your Way Gently to Fitness

Beginning any exercise routine may seem like an insurmountable feat if you have lupus. Having the energy to throw together dinner or do some laundry can be daunting and can exacerbate fatigue, joint stiffness and pain – so exercise may be the furthest thing from your mind these days. Easing into a fitness routine such as a stretching, however, may be key to improving flexibility and providing pain relief and may even boost your energy over time, enabling you to take on bigger and better things on the days you have more spoons – and those days may come more often.

Introduction

Many of us may take stretching for granted as something only athletes do before they run a marathon or step up to home plate. We may even assume that being able to stretch fully and deeply requires the flexibility of an acrobat. However, that is not the case.  I recently learned that stretching is a much more contemplative activity and is not just about being able to successfully touch the floor without bending my knees. To summarize what one of my favorite exercise instructors, Mimi Solaire, says, stretching with thoughtfulness and remembering to breathe is what improves flexibility, not pushing yourself beyond your physical limits to the point of pain.

What can stretching do for you?

According to the Mayo Clinic, stretching is an integral part of any fitness regime. Stretching can help you increase your range of motion and boost circulation. When your muscles are properly fed with oxygen and blood, they can optimally feed your bones, which can increase bone density and strength. When your muscles and bones work together, they can help ease the impact on your joints. The Mayo Clinic suggests that even if you don’t workout regularly, you may want to make sure you do some simple, basic stretches a few times a week to gain and maintain flexibility. It may also be a better way to ease into fitness without putting too much pressure on your body or your mind especially if you are not feeling physically fit. Stretching itself can be your fitness routine.

Sonya Collins of WebMD also notes that stretching is great for developing hip and hamstring flexibility, which will help you later in life. Stretching can also improve posture and relieve backpain, especially if you find yourself sitting at work or remaining sedentary for extended periods of time. Stretching can be done at any time when you feel you have the energy – you can stretch when you wake up (much like our feline friends), throughout the day when you have a few minutes, or even in the evening before you hit the hay (it actually may help relax you into slumber). Experiencing less pain because you’ve stretched and strengthened your muscles properly may lead to increased energy as we all know how being in pain can be emotionally and physically exhausting. Both Collins and the Mayo Clinic remind us, however, to stretch gently – there is no need to become a contortionist; you just want to be able to move freely and with ease.

What are the different types of stretching?

Often, we may associate a formal stretching routine as something more akin to yoga, Pilates, or even Barre, but by no means does it have to be. Those practices can be somewhat intimidating especially if you experience limitations in energy and movement – or are just not athletically inclined. Believe it or not, there are actually several types of stretching you can do depending on your fitness, health level and what you hope to achieve. According to The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), there are seven types of stretching:

  • Dynamic – Dynamic stretching is done in a very controlled manner that works within your range of motion in an effort to slowly extend that range over time. An example of dynamic stretching would be swinging your arms or legs to loosen up and warm up before you go for a walk, ride a bike, or perform other activity.
  • Active – Active stretching increases strength and flexibility by using your body’s own resistance and strength. If you were to bring your leg up and hold it in an extended position for a certain amount of time it can actually help relax the muscles being stretched while strengthening the other muscles around it.
  • Passive – Also called “relaxed stretching,” this type of stretching requires you to hold a muscle that is being stretched with another part of your body. A good passive arm stretch, for example, requires you to hold your arm across your chest while cradling it with your other hand. This can ease tension, muscle spasms and reduce soreness.
  • Static – Static stretching requires stretching a muscle to its furthest point and holding it there by itself for a period of time, usually around 30 seconds. You will often see people doing this at the end of an exercise class at the gym.
  • Isometric – This is actually considered one of the fastest ways to increase flexibility and strength. Isometric stretching is done by applying resistance to the part of your body being stretched. You may use a wall or other prop to provide opposition and resistance or even an exercise buddy to push against you.
  • Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) – This is a little more of an advanced form of stretching that nurtures a high-level of flexibility. You actually work a muscle through isometric, static and passive stretching for optimal performance.
  • Ballistic – The name almost implies that it is not the most optimal form of stretching; it could make your muscles go ballistic. I’m including it here so that you know what it is, and perhaps avoid it. Ballistic stretching uses the momentum of your body to move beyond your normal range of motion. It relies on a lot bouncing in and out of a stretch, which is an activity itself that can cause more harm than good. If you ever seen anything labeled as “ballistic stretching,” stay away!

An Interview with Miranda Esmonde-White, Fitness Trainer

I recently had the privilege to interview Miranda Esmonde-White, fitness trainer and creator of the DVD series Classical Stretch, and New York Times best-selling author of Forever Painless and Aging Backwards.  Miranda can also be seen in the PBS documentary, Forever Painless, where she discusses the causes of pain and how to manage its often debilitating effects. She also often works with individuals who experience limited mobility and pain due to injury and disease including lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and fibromyalgia. She believes that you don’t have to be hard on your body in order to get into shape and be healthy, and that in fact, the demands of a rigorous, pounding workout can often do more harm than good, putting strain and stress on a body and mind that is already under duress.

Miranda is also the creator of the Essentrics Workout – a workout that she describes as “a gentle stretching program that uses classical music…new age music, or any type of music…to work with feeling…[it’s] a smoother workout that let’s your muscles get long and lean.”  She draws on her experience practicing ballet and studying tai chi as well as working with doctors and physiotherapists to develop her workouts.  The focus is on stretching with thoughtfulness and intention. Throughout the process of developing her programs, and while instructing classes at her studio in Montreal, Miranda was shocked to learn that “most people are in pain. The world is actually in pain.” This motivates her to continue innovating programs especially as practitioners tell her that they feel less pain – and in some cases no pain – after completing her programs.

The secret to Miranda’s success could be her approach to fitness, which takes the whole body into consideration. Over the last several years, Miranda has been studying the body’s connective tissue, specifically fascia, which has been the subject of some amazing, recent research. According to fascia-therapist and author Ashley Black, fascia is the “body’s connective tissue…found throughout the body. Your fascia provides a framework that helps support and protect individual muscle groups, organs, and the entire body as a unit.” When fascia is healthy, it is “flexible, supple, and glides.” Miranda notes that it is often unhealthy fascia that is responsible for pain and restricted movement, not just an individual joint or muscle. Realizing that everything in the body works collectively as a system, Miranda also takes into account the brain, nervous system, stress, emotions – everything that makes up your being – in order to be able to holistically work at addressing the source of pain.

Watch my full interview with Miranda below to learn more about her unique approach to physical fitness and overall wellbeing.

Interview with Miranda Esmonde-White from Kaleidoscope Fighting Lupus on Vimeo.

 

In Conclusion

Eliminating barriers to exercise can be trial and error – abilities and limitations are unique and individual and exercise can’t be a one-size-fits-all prescription for wellbeing. You probably also don’t experience lupus exactly like anyone else – your energy level may differ as well as your strength and mobility. Regardless of whether or not you have lupus, you may be someone who is just not very athletically inclined, but you want to experience the benefits of exercise. Being kind to your body and starting a fitness program based on the essentials like stretching instead of plunging headfirst into the latest fitness trend as though you are a triathlete may be the best way to achieve better health and move with grace and ease.

 

References

Baker, T. (n.d.). 7 types of stretching exercises. Retrieved from: https://www.livestrong.com/article/539154-7-types-of-stretching-exercises/
Collins, S. (2012). Stretching: How to stretch, when to stretch. Retrieved from: https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/features/how-to-stretch#1
Esmonde-White, M. (2018, December 13).  Skype interview with L. Heintz.
Stretching and flexibility. (2018). Retrieved from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/basics/stretching-and-flexibility/hlv-20049447
Stretching and flexibility. (n.d.). Retrieved from: https://exrx.net/ExInfo/Stretching
Types of stretching. (n.d.). Retrieved from: http://web.mit.edu/tkd/stretch/stretching_4.html
 

 

Author: Liz Heintz

Liz Heintz is a technical and creative writer who received her BA in Communications, Advocacy, and Relational Communications from Marylhurst University in Lake Oswego, Oregon. She most recently worked for several years in the healthcare industry. A native of San Francisco, California, Liz now calls the beautiful Pacific Northwest home.

All images unless otherwise noted are property of and were created by Kaleidoscope Fighting Lupus. To use one of these images, please contact us at [email protected] for written permission; image credit and link-back must be given to Kaleidoscope Fighting Lupus.

All resources provided by us are for informational purposes only and should be used as a guide or for supplemental information, not to replace the advice of a medical professional. The personal views expressed here do not necessarily encompass the views of the organization, but the information has been vetted as a relevant resource. We encourage you to be your strongest advocate and always contact your healthcare practitioner with any specific questions or concerns.