Ann Angell

Ann Angell said wall stretches have given her more flexibility than she has had since she became a grown-up.

As someone who has taught fitness classes since I was 25 (and I’m now 59), I wished an older, wiser athlete had taken me aside when I was 30 and given me the fitness advice that I am slowly learning and would like to tell the young’uns today.

I have shared this with my daughters, and if there is anyone under 50 reading this column, listen up:

It is not all about how much you can jump around, or run or sweat. Nope, it’s not.

It took me many years to get that through my thick cardio-obsessed brain. I could not enjoy a yoga class or sit minutes on end stretching because it was drilled into my head somewhere in the past that I had to sweat a ton and practically kill myself working out for it to count.

And diet! Why did it take me so long to really, truly understand that every single thing you put in your mouth has consequences? (Totally still trying to conquer this one.)

Why don’t we understand that the food we eat can prevent illness? Don’t wait to get the illness to treat it, but eat to prevent it.

We know that there are carcinogens in some meats, sometimes comparable to tobacco. Smoking rates are falling, but cancer is rising, possibly because we eat so poorly.

It took me a long time to figure out that a plant-based diet makes us healthier. This is my choice due to all the heart disease in my family. I wish I had known this 25 years ago, although I have delved in it over the years several times.

Even though my minor in college was nutrition, my focus was exercise. I guess I am a slow learner, but as I age I now know: More stretching, less pounding. More vegetables, less bad stuff.

This is advice to give to the young’uns. If they will listen.

Over the last four or five years, I have discovered the need for my body to stretch more. The best ones? Wall stretches. Yeah, I know. All you yoga folks have known this for years. I told you I am slow.

These stretches have given me more flexibility than I have had since I became a grown-up. They are AMAZING! Everyone should be doing these. We should make it a law! Like a prerequisite for life.

Over 50, we really need to keep our flexibility so we can stay functional. Functional training is key. Train to bend, turn, reach plus all that goes with life.

Try these three wall stretches to start:

1. Sit sideways with right shoulder and right hip against a blank wall. Then turn and throw your legs up the wall. In the finished position, your body should be at a 90-degree angle with your butt touching the wall. Lift up and grab your right leg as high as you can without bending your knee a lot, and pull it toward you, stretching your hamstring. Hold about 20-30 seconds, and repeat on left side.

2. Next do a butterfly stretch. Bottoms of your feet together, pulling your heels down towards floor and pushing knees into the wall. This stretches your inner thighs and hips.

3. Lastly, take both legs out as far as you can in a V shape. This is a super-challenging stretch but well worth it, giving you tons more flexibility if practiced two or three times a week. This stretch gets the inner thigh, hamstrings and hips.

Remember to stretch until you feel slight discomfort, never pain. Work into it slowly. It pays off tons!

We need to be more gentle with ourselves over 50. Take time between workouts to recover. Maybe two days if need be.

And study what you eat. Grow a garden if you can. Fresh plants from a friend or a local farmers market are easy to acquire this time of year.

Think real food when you eat. Not packaged.

Think yoga class instead of running.

Pass this onto the young’uns in your life. If they will listen.

Ann Angell is a certified instructor and personal trainer and  manager of the Oxford YMCA. Her fitness column appears the third Sunday of each month.