Skip to main content

Stretch to Keep Moving

 I woke up at 5:00 am this morning before my alarm even went off. I rolled over, checked my phone, took a drink of water, and stretched as I got out of bed. My little dog stretched, too. She stretches as she begins every day. It's her way of telling me she is ready to get moving. 

I took my dog for a walk around the apartment complex, and then we both came back in and ate breakfast. I drank a bottle of water (from a reusable water bottle) that I had cooled over night, and I dressed and headed for the trail. I arrived at the trail at 6:15 am. 

We have been having a heat wave here in the Pacific Northwest. Temperatures have been hovering around the 100 degrees mark for weeks now. During that time, it's been important to stay hydrated. I drink a 24 ounces bottle of water at every meal time and at least one or two more bottles of water the same size during the day. 

Photo by Jeanette R. Harrison, MPH

Drinking water allows your body to function properly. Your body has something called the sodium potassium pump within the cells. Basically, the sodium potassium pump tries to keep a balance between the amount of sodium in your cells and the amount of potassium in your cells. When you get dehydrated, the cells hold onto the sodium because the cells need more water to function. This may cause the cells to become "waterlogged" and stop working properly. Also, there is only so much space in the cells for sodium and potassium. Therefore, if you are dehydrated, the sodium is going to push the potassium out and take up space in the cell. The potassium is then passed out of the body and not used properly in the cells. A lack of potassium in the cells can lead to muscle cramping. 

As Americans, we have a lot of sodium in our diets. I remember participating in a race, and the runner in front of me knew about the sodium potassium pump, but she did not have a clear understanding of how it worked. Before the race, she had taken a sodium tablet. The sodium tablet caused her to have severe cramps, and she was forced to stop several times during the race. The sodium, along with becoming increasingly dehydrated as she was exercising, was forcing the potassium out of her cells. 

No matter how hard we try, it can be hard some days to maintain the balance in the sodium potassium pump. Stretching stimulates pushing the sodium out of the cells. When I have muscle cramps, I make sure I have taken my multivitamin for the day, and I eat a banana. Bananas are high in potassium, as are other foods like oranges, raisins, prunes, apricots, potatoes, and spinach. I also make sure I do some stretches. If I start to feel a cramp on the trail, I will stop and stretch that body part. I often do my stretching after my muscles are already warm. I played tennis and soccer, and I even was a cheerleader in high school. Even back then, we knew that you had to warm up your muscles first before you stretched them or else you could sustain an injury. Stretching during the workout can also prevent an injury and help you keep moving when you are on the trail. 

If you are prone to cramps during workouts, you may want to be sure to have plenty of water with you and take some potassium rich foods, like raisins, along with you. I chose raisins here because carrying a box of raisins in your pocket or a pouch takes up less space than a banana.