Inflammation tops the list of why we age prematurely. Chronic inflammation leads to heart disease, diabetes, cancer, even Alzheimer’s disease. How does inflammation start?

When we have injuries, whether big ones like surgery or minor ones like bruises, our bodies become like firefighters, breaking out the hoses and spraying like crazy. This is our sympathetic nervous system, the “fight or flight” response, sounding the alarm to marshal our body’s resources to heal.

Boomers and seniors are vulnerable to rampant inflammation not only by being on the earth longer, accumulating more injuries and illnesses, but, over time, the body loses the ability to differentiate between a brush fire and a conflagration. Add a chronic condition like arthritis, top it off with mental stress and our bodies’ sirens are sounding all the time. No wonder we don’t sleep well which causes more inflammation!

Should we stay locked inside protecting ourselves from injuries? That’s the worst thing we can do – we need to move! Movement helps detoxify our cells, removing inflammation.

Recent research shows stretching is a particularly effective way to reduce inflammation. Stretching relieves inflammation by activating the inflammation resolution pathways. Inflammation resolution pathways turn off inflammation when it’s not needed instead of always burning out of control.

Here’s why boomers need to stretch: connective tissue like fascia (think of the plastic wrap you use in the kitchen – that’s what’s wrapped around your muscles and joints) gets blockages due to surgery, injury and lack of movement. This causes the fascia to “glue together” instead of slide easily. We want sliding fascia because that means better mobility and flexibility.

We need focused, gentle stretching throughout the entire body. Stretching too quickly or forcefully tears the tissues resulting in more – you guessed it – inflammation. We start by breathing deeply, expanding our belly and diaphragm, activating our parasympathetic nervous system, the flip side of the sympathetic nervous system, allowing our bodies to restore healing to our cells. Deep stretching gets hydration into our cells, boosting our immune systems.

In the stretching sessions I conduct, I emphasize mindfulness and end with a meditation (more on those topics in the next article). We visualize the areas of the body we’re stretching to keep our minds in the present moment, sending healing messages to our brains. It’s a wonderful way to make mind-body connections, de-stress, and send inflammation packing!