Flexibility in your thinking as well as your body

Three years ago most people took good health for granted. Dialogue around health tended to focus on the ideals of exercising more and eating better. These days, the issues are larger. Most people have suffered serious upheaval through Covid restrictions and illness.

Whether it’s Covid, the flu, or another ailment, it’s difficult to get medical treatment. There’s a general sense of concern that the health of our family, community, country and globe is not wholly under control. It’s an uneasy climate of chaos. We now scrutinise the smallest of symptoms and no longer push through a cold. 

Caution is appropriate, but lack of confidence combined with the time of year have created a hibernation mentality. Cooler weather leads to a variety of hormones and habits that feed the inclination to move less and eat more. Less daylight shifts the balance between serotonin and melatonin. These hormones regulate various human functions such as sleep, mood and appetite. Circadian rhythms change in the colder months, making it more difficult to summon the motivation to move. At the same time, lower serotonin can cause cravings for carb-packed comfort foods.

Against the backdrop of these sedentary tendencies is the sensible concern about returning to exercise after Covid. Most people are aware of the risk of long Covid and many have taken the “don’t push yourself” advice very literally. Who wouldn’t welcome the suggestion that remaining on the couch is the most sensible course of action?  

It’s important to be aware of the expanse of middle ground that exists between overdoing it and under-doing it. Obviously, high intensity training isn’t the ideal way to ease back into exercise after Covid. Even walking may be inappropriate in some cases. Cold air is hard on airways, and if you go walking and run out of puff you still have to get home.

Fortunately, not all physical activity is characterised by great exertion and risk. Flexibility is the range of motion around a joint and it’s the most often neglected component of the fitness mix. When it’s optimised, it supports both cardiovascular endurance and muscle strength. Flexibility is largely genetic – we all have a baseline level of elasticity in our muscles which can be increased with practice. We can improve on our baseline by approximately 20-25%. 

If you’ve been advised to take it easy as you recover from illness you could start with a block of flexibility training. You might even have a half-completed rehab regime you could circle back to. A break from exercise intensity doesn’t need to mean a complete break from physical activity. Taking time to improve your structural stability can create a strong base for future physical endeavors when endurance is higher.

The theme of the year health-wise seems to be caution rather than challenge. As with most things, the answer doesn’t lie at either end of the continuum. Our bodies are designed to move and we benefit psychologically from keeping the mind-body link alive.  This winter is a great time to try out a little flexibility in your thinking as well as your body.

By: , Claire Bellingham of Les Mills Takapuna.

Issue 132 July 2022