#267 The Importance of Flexibility for a Healthy Life

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How would you like to: 

  • Decrease your risk of injuries. 
  • Help your joints move through their full range of motion. 
  • Increase muscle blood flow. 
  • Enable your muscles to work most effectively. 
  • Improve your ability to do daily activities. 

Without having to spend a penny or breaking a sweat? 

Friends, one of the magic keys to feeling well is to have a flexible body.  

No, you don’t have to be born with a circus-like range of motion. 

Flexibility is different for each of us but the one thing it requires from all of us is consistent focus. 

 In this Tuesday Terrain Talk episode of the Better Than Before Breast Cancer Podcast, I hope to give you a new perspective on the value of stretching your body on a regular basis.  

 Listen now to understand why this is important and how you can achieve more flexibility and less pain safely and comfortably no matter where you’re starting. 


Referred to in this episode: 

Better Than Before Breast Cancer Life Coaching Membership 

Mayo Clinic: Stretching: Focus on flexibility 

Stretching videos 

Foam Rolling articles and videos 

Yoga with Adrienne - YouTube 

Follow me on: 








Read the full transcript below:

Laura Lummer  00:00

You're listening to the breast cancer recovery coach podcast. I'm your host, Laura Lummer. I'm a Certified Life health and nutrition coach, and I'm also a breast cancer thriver. If you're trying to figure out how to move past the trauma and the emotional toll of breast cancer, you've come to the right place. In this podcast, I will give you the tools and the insights to create a life that's even better than before breast cancer. Well, let's get started.


Laura Lummer  00:32

Hello, hello, you are listening to Episode 267 have better than before breast cancer with the breast cancer recovery coach podcast. Such a mouthful, I got to really get used to that. I'm glad that you joined me here today for our Tuesday terrain talk, where we focus on simple things you can do to support your overall wellness to support your body in its optimal ability to function to work the way it's supposed to work. And there are so many things that we can do about it. Today, we're going to focus on an area that is near and dear to my heart. And something that I think gets overlooked and is very misunderstood by most people. And that is flexibility training. So before you panic and think I'm going to send you off to a Bikram yoga class, let's talk about what flexibility is why it's important and why would even talk about it. With a group of breast cancer survivors. Why is it important for us? And how does it support our body's ability to help us feel better and function better in our life? Well, something that we deal with often as breast cancer survivors is pain. So first of all, many of us have had surgery on our chest. So that can range anywhere from lumpectomies to mastectomies to D AIP surgeries, which are extremely invasive on our body, then we deal with not only the soreness in the front of our body, which typically causes us to lean forward, slouch forward, roll the shoulders forward, and that affects our posture. And I'm going to go into exactly how that creates pain in just a minute. And then we also can become very self conscious about our chest. So depending on whether or not we've had reconstruction, how comfortable you are with how that reconstruction looks, if you haven't had reconstruction, and how comfortable you are, with your appearance of being flat chested, a lot of times, it is that mental perspective of how we look that again, brings our shoulders forward, and causes us to kind of like withdraw, we roll the shoulders forward to kind of pull the chest in, because we're self conscious about the appearance of it. So when we do that, we shorten those pectoral muscles, those muscles in our chest, and we overextended the muscles in our back. So it not only leads to bad posture, poor posture, but overall, it's going to increase pain, because we're going to have a lot more tightness from shoulder to shoulder across the chest, which is going to bring those shoulders forward. So a lot of times people think like, oh, I need to stretch my back. And they'll do cat stretches and things because their back is sore, when actually what's happening is those opposing muscles in the front of our body are pulling us forward. And we need to open those and stretch them by opening the shoulders and rolling the shoulders back and down and practicing that posture. So when we talk about flexibility and flexibility training, most people's mind goes straight to yoga, which I am a huge fan of yoga, I have been a yoga teacher or did yoga teacher training back in 2006. So I've done yoga for a long time. And I'm a huge fan of not only the postures, the asana practice, but the entire philosophy of yoga. But yoga is intimidating for a lot of people. We think that we have to go into a yoga studio, we're worried we can't touch our toes, we're worried we can't twist, we're worried what people are going to think about us. And one, I assure you that nobody's looking at you, because everybody's thinking the same thing you are, they're worried about who's looking at them. So we don't have to worry about being like the focus of everyone in the yoga class, if you choose to go to a yoga studio. Also, people are intimidated by that idea, because they don't understand yoga, they don't understand the postures, the names of the postures, and they can be very uncomfortable with how fast the class moves, or all different types of offerings when it comes to going to a yoga class. And honestly, before I started teaching yoga, probably a year, maybe a year and a half prior to that. I did yoga at home. I had those exact same thoughts. I was very self conscious. I was unsure of what it would be like to go into yoga A studio. And at that time, I had a VCR. And so I bought some yoga tapes. And I did yoga at home until I felt comfortable that I understood some of the jargon that was used and that I felt like I was capable of doing yoga and understanding how to keep up with the class. Now, since then, I go to yoga classes regularly three times a week, usually. And I'm very familiar with all different types of yoga, I've taught yoga for many years. And I can assure you that you don't have to go through that, that yoga classes are really a non judgement space. And you're there to do the beautiful, the beautiful thing about it is it's your practice yoga is referred to as a practice, because we're constantly learning how to adjust our body, how to connect our breath to our body, how to open our body. And so you really can feel rest assured that you can go into a yoga studio and feel comfortable. But just because I say that doesn't mean you're going to believe it, or adopt those thoughts for yourself to be able to do it. Also, there's the expense of going to yoga classes, yoga is not cheap, at least not in Southern California, it's not cheap. And so that can put some people off. But you are in luck, because there's this wonderful invention called YouTube. And they're fantastic yoga teachers on YouTube, that teach everything from restorative yoga, to advanced yoga. I mean, there are some like Kino yoga, she's on there twisting herself into some Cirque du Soleil stuff, I tell you, it's pretty remarkable to see. But there are lots of free resources, if that is an avenue that you want to pursue. Now, what I'm talking about when I say flexibility, training, does not require you to go to a yoga class, it does not require you to become a yogi. But what I'm speaking of here is moving your body in such a way that we allow our nervous system, most people think it's just our muscles, like we want to stretch our muscles. And here's the way a muscle works. A muscle is attached to a bone by a tissue called a tendon. Okay, and a muscle has an insertion point and an origination point. And that's it, right? So think about a muscle the way you would think about a rubber band. If a rubber band is too tight, you know, think about when you find an old rubber band, and maybe it's dry, and it's brittle, and you try to pull it and it breaks, right, it's snaps and it breaks, it's hard, it's rigid. Think about if you've had a rubber band that's been around for a long time you've used it on things and stretched it out and stretched out and stretched it out. So now it's lost its elasticity. And it's just like loopy and hanging there. Well, we don't want our muscles we either one of those things, like a rubber band, we want our muscles to have elasticity, we want to be able to stretch. And then we want to be able to come back to just a normal form, right, we're not going to walk around like our arm stretched over reaching to our opposite hip all day long. So we want our muscles to move with us, but to be open to the extent that they're not rigid and pulling on other muscles. Because here's another misconception we go through this life thinking that, Oh, if I have pain in my shoulder, I should rub my shoulder as if the muscles that hold together and support this whole shoulder girdle, your collarbone, your shoulder, your shoulder blades, as if those are somehow separate from the other muscles in your body. And they're not. And in fact, when I first started studying corrective exercise techniques, I gotta tell you learning the chain, we call it the kinetic chain right from the bottom of your feet, all the way up your body, each muscle is connected, right, they just move up. And that's how we move together. Right. That's how when you move your foot and moves your calf when you move your calf it moves your knee right, we all move in this chain, and one muscle moves the other. When a muscle is tight, let's say like a foot. Let's say that you have a high heel fetish or something we walk around in high heels on your tiptoes all day. I'm totally guilty of that. I've loved high heeled shoes my whole life. But I have to make sure that I always had a balance between flats and high heels. Because if you're walking on your tiptoes all day long, think about where your calf muscle is your heel is up in the air and you're shortening that muscle. So then when you lower your heel all the way down to the ground and you lengthen that calf muscle that is going to be tight, right? It's not going to feel good. That Achilles tendon in the back of your ankle, that is attaching that calf muscle that's moving your foot that's going to be tight and it's going to hurt and it's going to be uncomfortable. Well, when that happens and you have tight muscles under your feet because yes, there's muscles under our feet, right? There's little muscles that run on the bottom of our feet and they hook onto our toes and the tower toes move to fascinating machine or body so When those muscles are tight, because of the way we walk, because of our lack of flexibility, or the type of shoes that we wear, then that lack of flexibility in the foot is going to affect the calf is going to affect the knee is going to affect the hamstring, the hamstring is going to affect the glute, your butt muscles, the way your butt attaches to your lower back, it's going to pull there. So you might be surprised to discover that shoulder pain is a result of your feet. And that you need to work on your feet and actually allow your feet to become more flexible and move more naturally. And in doing so you can start to move the whole body a little better and become more flexible overall. Now you're going to do more than just move your feet right, you're going to move your entire body and use flexibility training for the whole body. But I just wanted to give you that visualization. So you realize that we're all connected, every part of the body is connected. Normally, when we have pain unless we know specifically something happened to that area of the body. But if it's just overall muscle pain, we've got to think about what else is connecting to it and work the whole entire body, realizing that all these muscles depend on each other. Okay, so what is flexibility training, I want to get away from referring to it as yoga because I know there's a lot of stigma about yoga. So we're talking about stretching. Alright, stretching is an important part. So we've got cardiovascular exercise, we've got strength training, resistance training, which is Uber important, especially as we're Peri and postmenopausal. It's important your whole entire life. But as we age, and as we go through things like physical traumas in life, like breast cancer, where we tend to become more sedentary, we're ill, we've had injuries in the form of surgeries, and our bodies are at rest more, right, we are taking on less activity for good reasons. And as the body is more and more sedentary, it gets more and more stiff, we're not opening up the body. And again, that's not just in stretching the muscles. So as I refer to the rubber band analogy, we don't want a muscle to be stretched and be longer than it's supposed to be and just be there like hanging out like a loose rubber band. So what happens when we are stretching our body is we're teaching our nervous system, how to move more efficiently. Our nerves are what allow our muscles to move. And when we move too far, our nerves are what stopped our muscles from moving. It's like this whole safety net that's built into our body. And our nervous system was like, whoa, whoa, whoa, that feels unstable, or that feels painful, right? The nerves gonna send a little bit of pain, like stop there, stop there. I'm not used to that movement. And so the nerves don't allow the muscle to relax into that movement, and it keeps us stiff. So one of the things that started becoming really popular in the fitness world years ago was functional training. And functional training is fabulous. Because what functional training is, is teaching our body and moving our body in a way that our body normally moves, in a way we would move to pick up something out of a dishwasher and lift it up and put it on a shelf in a cupboard. Those are the types of movements we need to be able to do to support ourselves and live independently and freely through life. So we don't necessarily need to be doing these weird kinds of exercises or movements or motions that would not naturally happen in the course of a day. Those are not going to support our ability to be functional. So when we're talking about stretching, it's super easy things of moving your body in a way that your body normally oops, and of also paying attention throughout the day, in continuing to move your body and continuing to use your body because our nervous system responds to our body based on what we do most frequently. So since we're going to talk about frequency here, which means the number of times right, the duration is how long and the frequency is how often, how often should you stretch every single day. That would be the be all end all wonderful. Every single day, you should stretch your body spend at least a few minutes stretching your body. That is how we train the nervous system to relax into a movement. So going back to where we move our feet and our ankles were in shoes, shoes do not allow the flexibility of a foot which should move from heel to toe. There's like I think 33 Little connected joints in our in our feet. There's so much mobility in a foot but then we put it in a shoe and we limit that mobility and then hop And when we do that is we limit the movement of the ankle because we limited the foot. And then when we limit the ankle and the foot, day after day for long periods of times for years, guess what we end up having what's called the senior shuffle. You can picture an elderly person walking, just kind of shuffling their feet, not really picking up their feet. That's because their feet and their ankles have become so rigid, because of the lack of complete movement and motion in that foot over time. And then what happens when we do that when we started doing a senior shuffle, we trip, we trip over things, and we fought. So flexibility training is very important to support balance. It's very important to support us in relieving pain, and to support us and living independent lives, where we are able to take care of ourselves and move without pain, and move freely and maintain our balance and our proprioception, our brains perception of where our body is in space and time. So as I talked about the SR shuffle, I'm sure you know, as we age, a lot of people lose their balance. And this is all a part of exercise, and especially flexibility training. So why should you stretch your body every day Exactly. For that reason, that's how a body is supposed to move. Now, we may have pain in the shoulders and the chest in the back. But then we also have pain as breast cancer survivors, oftentimes, because of the medications that we take. And those medications can affect our joints, hands on knees, or feet. And we can have neuropathy as well, which, again, is going to be limiting with movement. So people oftentimes when they're in pain, think injury, right? So we think about when we're hurt, and when we're hurt, we don't want to move because we don't want to exacerbate an injury. But in fact, the kind of pain that comes from a sedentary life from having Incorrect posture, or not enough movement, or not the right kind of movement, or even the pain that can be brought about by different medications can actually be made better by movement. So if you think about what I was describing how flexibility training, moving, stretching, is more a function of the nervous system than just the muscles, it's teaching your nervous system that it's okay, little bit at a time I'm stretching, I'm stretching a little farther, a little farther, and the nervous system will stop firing so fast as they don't stretch anymore. Stop, right little by little it learns, oh, it's safe. It's okay to move forward to be able to touch your toes. It's okay to hang there a little bit. And that is how we teach our nervous system. So do we lengthen our muscles? Of course we do. But temporarily like a rubber band. So not only should we exercise every day, but the amount of time that you stay in a stretch is really important. And what studies show, in fact, I was reading in a Harvard health report that the optimal time studies have shown for stretching a muscle lengthening a muscle is 30 seconds. So 30 to 60 seconds is really the sweet spot for lengthening a muscle and for receiving the long term benefits of holding it for that long. Again, what is that benefit, it's teaching the nervous system, that it's okay to relax and allow the muscle to stretch out. Okay, the tendon, which is the tissue that connects the muscle to the bone that is stretchy, the muscle is stretchy, and we want to maintain that elasticity. By teaching the nervous system, it's okay to let me move it's okay to let me stretch and then the muscle goes back to its original. That's what we want. So ideally, if we stretch every day, then the stretches don't have to be held for as long because we want the cumulative effect of time each week to be at least 60 seconds per muscle. That is not a lot of time people. We so deserved to give ourselves 60 seconds per muscle group, right? It's okay, we can get up. Heck, by the time you blow dried your hair, you can bend over and stretch and do forward bends or reacher hands up or actually stick your heels out and do some stretches on the hamstrings and on the calves. And I'm going to give you resources that will show you some of these very simple exercises that are both standing and sitting. I'm gonna give you lots of resources here for this podcast, but want to do it every day. And if you're thinking there's no way there's no way I don't have five to 10 minutes a day to do my stretching. It's okay. If you stretch fewer than five days a week, let's say you do the absolute minimum which will be recommended to be two days a week. If two days a week you spend time on stretching you want to hold your stretches a little longer. So if you're doing your stretch five days a week or four days a week, then hold it for 15 to 30 seconds If you're doing it just two days a week, try to hold the stretch for 30 to 60 seconds. So again, the longer that we hold it, the more we're teaching the nervous system, it's okay to let go. We never stretch to the point of pain. Never ever, ever, and positioning yourself and posture and form in a stretch is equally as important as posture and form in any exercise. Because again, we're thinking about being functional. And functional means we move our body in the correct form, so we don't injure ourselves. So when we're stretching, especially in the beginning, when we're teaching our body to move freely in flow, and not be painful and stiff all the time and rigid. When we're teaching our body that try to hold your posture, it's better to be straight and have good form and not a lot of flexibility at first than it is to try to bend and stretch as far as you possibly can with wonky form. Okay, that's the kind of thing that's going to hurt you. So


Laura Lummer  21:06

when you have proper form, and you can only let's say that you are sitting on the ground, and you want to fold forward and touch your toes and rest your forehead, on your knees. And right now, all you can do is lean forward six inches. Great. Lean forward six inches, and then breathe into it. Don't hold your breath, inhale deep and expand those lungs really big as you're getting to that stretch, and hold it that six inches forward for 30 to 60 seconds, and then come back to your resting position. And then do that again. Two to three times Max is all you need to do to hold it. Little by little, you'll see you go from leaning forward six inches with a straight spine, to leaning forward, six and a half inches, seven inches, little by little. And within a couple of weeks of a consistent flexibility routine, you're going to start to notice advancements. And I remember when I've not only when I first did started yoga, but over the years as I've had to take time out from stretching because of injuries or surgeries or illness. And then you come back I was like, Oh my gosh, I feel like I'm starting all over again. I'm so stiff. And in no time at all, I noticed so wonderful how the body responds to training. It is amazing how our bodies respond to movement. They're fascinating machines. So you are never too old, it is never too late. You are never too stiff to get looser, you can always do this to support yourself. Now I again, I hear a lot of survivors talk to me about pain, about joint pain about stiffness. And this is a beautiful way to support yourself in moving further away from a painful stiff body to a nice flexible body that can move easily with good balance. Now another thing that can contribute to joint pain and to lack of flexibility is our body weight. So you have to consider and a lot of people don't think about this, that when we're in pain, especially in our hips, our knees and our feet, then we think aging, we think medications, many of those things. But weight can be a huge contributing factor to pain in joints. So be mindful of that and consider maintaining a healthy weight is important for so many reasons. But reducing pain is also one of them. So if you think about a skeleton, right, a body's skeleton, that skeleton is really kind of designed with the height of this person in mind, right? This this skeleton is a system of levers and muscles or pulleys, right? And it's all designed so that we can move well, it's also only designed to sustain a certain amount of weight. So the more weight we put on it, then the more difficult it's going to be for those joints to support that amount of weight. Okay, so one more thing I want to say before we go about stretching, we've talked about how often to stretch, we've talked about how long to hold a stretch. We've talked about why it's important for balance, for mobility, for reducing pain, and also reducing our chance of injury by losing our balance and falling or having stiff ankles and tripping. Another important part is what kind of stretching to do, what type of stretching do you do? Because there is static stretch, which is you get into a stretch. Again, let's say that you have your legs straight out in front of you, and you just bend forward towards your knees. That's just a static stretch and you get to as far as you comfortably can before your body starts to resist. And then you breathe into that resistance not into pain. We never stretch to the point of pain. Then there's a dynamic stretch In a dynamic stretches, we're moving across these planes of motion. So side to side, twist forward, backward, these are the planes of motion that our body moves in. And before you do any kind of exercise, walking, running athletic activities, people used to think that static stretching was the best thing to do. We're actually studies now have shown that dynamic stretching, moving your body in a way that you will be moving your body in whatever workout or activity you're going to be doing, actually is better because again, it's teaching the muscle, this is how I move, this is the way I'm going to move, let's warm up, let's get the blood pumping, let's get some oxygen into those muscles by moving in a dynamic stretching pattern. And then when you're done with your walk, or your class, or whatever it is that you've done your strength training, then static stretching, then holding the stretches for longer periods of time is what's beneficial for the body, it's not necessarily going to reduce the pain that you get from the lactic acid buildup, you know what we call the good sore from exercising, but it is just going to help continue with the openness and the flexibility of your body overall. Now there's another stretch, that's called ballistic stretching. And this is one that we really want to stay away from, because it can cause injury to people very easily, a ballistic stretches when you go into, let's say, a stretch that you want to hold, but instead of holding it, you start doing little bounces in it. And what those little bounces do is they really push your muscles a little bit beyond what they're capable of doing. Right? I told you like the nervous system, as you gently stretch will kind of give you that, okay, I'm resisting, that's far enough. And that's where we hold our breath and then pull back. But when you're doing a ballistic stretch, it's a quick movement. So it's like a bounce, and your nervous system doesn't have time to react and stop. And so you can really injure yourself easily. I would say unless you are with a physical therapist or trainer, or there's some good reason for that and someone is guiding you through it, that is definitely something you should avoid. Because we always want to be safe. The point of having a flexible body is to spare ourselves from pain and injury as we move through life. And as we age. So we don't want to be doing anything that is unsafe. Just like any other exercise, even incorporating flexibility routines should be something you talk with your doctor about. Or if you're not comfortable, or you're not sure what to do get some professional guidance, you can get private classes, you can do research, you can ask for a referral to a physical therapist. So I'll share a real quick story with you before the end of this but I had 15 rounds of radiation on my thoracic spine. So right in between my shoulder rates. Now I already lifelong have had scoliosis. So how to my spine is kind of it's not twisted, but it's bent doesn't go completely straight the way it's supposed to go. And so that radiation, change the muscle kind of around the bones that were irradiated. And you can picture right like kind of turned into beef jerky, where you have radiation, as you will know, and I've had it in my hip, and I've had it in my spine too. So both of those areas, it changes the flexibility of the muscle. So I started noticing that I was rolling forward even more because of the tightness and the weirdness that's happening between my shoulder blades. And when I noticed that a lot of people would just say like, oh, that's just a result of radiation. But I know better because I have training and I am a certified personal trainer and a corrective exercise specialist. So I know there are things that we can do to teach the body to hold itself differently. And so I did get a physical therapy referral from my oncologist to work with a professional, because I've got a lot going on back in the spine. And I want to make sure that I have guidance, someone's watching me, and everything is done absolutely correctly. And I want to encourage you if you find that you have a stiff body if you find that you're not happy with your posture or the way your body is moving or feeling or you think that you have more pain than you should or any kind of pain that you don't want to be experiencing. Go to your doctor and ask to work with a physical therapist. Most insurance companies are going to cover this if you're having some kind of pain. And I think that it is a resource that goes unutilized far too often. Both physical therapy and massage therapy. Massage Therapy is so beneficial for releasing that fascia, the fascia, that tissue that just covers each one of our muscles, and it needs to have a little bit of hydration between the fascia and the muscle and the fascia can get sticky and stuff. So we want to move it so that our muscles can move more without sticking to it. That's a real oversimplification of anatomy and physiology. But I think you get the picture and that's all I want is for you to get the idea and to understand the simplicity and the importance and the amazing benefits that you can experience by incorporating some flexibility retraining, some stretching into your daily life to support your healthiest, pain free, beautiful, flexible, flowing body. So in the show notes for this episode that you'll find at the breast cancer recovery coach.com forward slash 267. Or were right where you're listening to this podcast, just scroll down and you'll see the show notes. I've provided links to blogs, videos on both stretching, and a YouTube channel that many of my clients use for yoga and highly recommend. It's called Yoga by Adrian. Just a disclaimer, I have never done yoga by Adrian, I did look through some of her videos before I decided to put the link in the show notes. And she looks like a very competent teacher, a very competent yoga teacher. So you might want to check out that channel. So know that we're ever you are in that spectrum of movement. There is a place for you to start to be able to open your body and to be able to increase your flexibility so that you can move more freely and independently your life and safely right and want to be safe. Alright friends, that's it for today's Tuesday terrain talk. I hope you get out there and you get some stretching in and I would love to hear from you. I would love to hear what you do, what you try what you like or what questions you have. So you can find me on Facebook and Instagram as the breast cancer recovery coach. You can find my youtube channel the breast cancer recovery coach, and you can come and join my free Facebook group the breast cancer recovery group where we got over 1000 breast cancer survivors in there everybody there to support each other to live a life that's better than before breast cancer. So come and join us or work with me directly in my life coaching membership the better than before breast cancer life coaching membership, find all of that all the links to everything on my website, the breast cancer recovery coach.com And I'll talk to you soon.


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