Last Thursday, I had the pleasure of joining in on the Executive Office of Elder Affairs’ daily Stretch and Smile exercise program. Since I was fully occupied with learning the exercises and making sure I performed them correctly, I asked ELD’s Wellness Champion Martina Jackson to describe the program:
“Every afternoon, at 3:00 p.m., Massachusetts Executive Office of Elder Affairs employees meet in a back corridor on the fifth floor of the McCormack Building near the freight elevators to spend fifteen minutes in a stretch and strengthen exercise routine. Led by Emmett Schmarsow, Director of the Commonwealth’s Council on Aging program, the group, with a variable number of participants (sometimes as many as fifteen), has been exercising together for about eighteen months. Ranging in age from mid-twenties to eighty-one, the Stretch and Smilers begin with three warm-up exercises to loosen arms, shoulders and hips and stretch and expand rib cage and lungs (up to five minutes).
Once warmed up and loosened, the participants jump into the (yoga) warrior pose, stretching arms, torso and legs, and then bringing the opposite arm forward and up; the arm that led now becomes the back arm. We then reverse position (holding for about thirty seconds on each side). Exercise five is the aerobic feature of the routine, involving raising left knee to right elbow and reversing, repeated, vigorously, fifty times or as many as people care to do.
Having stretched, jumped and moved up and down, we cool off with a stationary “best foot forward,” (exercise six) approximating ballet’s “fifth position,” by reaching upward with the arm on the same side as the front foot. We then reverse front foot and arm (holding each position for thirty seconds).
In exercise seven, we concentrate on downward stretches by standing with legs a shoulder-width apart and slowly bending from the waist flattening our spines as they bend forward, creating a “table”. Stretching arms to the side, we touch left ankle with right hand and right ankle with left hand, trying to keep backs straight and parallel to the floor. After five sets, keeping arms outstretched we straighten up slowly (using stomach muscles to pull up to normal standing position).
The eighth exercise, known as “The Larch,” is a combination of balance and stretch in which participants, using their left hand, grab and pull their left ankle up and behind, as close to their waist as they can, while reaching upward with the right arm (for a count of thirty seconds), then repeating by holding their right ankle with their right hand, with left arm “upstretched.” Some prefer to do the exercise by simply thrusting one leg behind and stretching up with the opposite arm.
Exercise nine involves more downward stretching as we bend down as far as possible, keeping legs straight, feet slightly apart, with the back relaxed and rounded. Touching (or trying to touch ankles or toes), we hold the position for about 15-20 seconds and pull upright using stomach muscles. Repeat the exercise five times.
Our finale combines stretching, strengthening and balance; as we stand with feet a shoulder’s width apart, we raise our arms and make five large slow circles first clockwise, keeping backs straight and bending knees as much as we can, then making five large counterclockwise circles.
At the conclusion of this exercise we slap ourselves all over to stimulate circulation and nerve endings and applaud one another and our leader.”
Programs such as Stretch and Smile are great for several reasons: They encourage employee camaraderie, provide a welcome break from what can sometimes be a long workday, strengthen muscles, and promote proper form and posture. As someone who could admittedly work on that last item, I found myself standing and sitting up much straighter for the rest of the day (and feeling more energized as well!). I’d like to thank Emmett, Martina, and the rest of the Stretch and Smile participants for welcoming me into their group and showing me the ropes. They have extended the invitation to participate in their daily routine to anyone who is in the area and would like to join in. Sessions are held at 3:00 daily near the 5th floor freight elevators in the McCormack Building. I strongly encourage anyone who is interested to stop by for a session – who knows, you just might be inspired to start a similar program at your own agency!