Fighting Gravity as You Age: The Swiss Ball Super Stretch

I often write that I have a love-hate relationship with aging. On the one hand, an aging body is a fantastic instructor for anyone that does what I do. On the other hand, aging isn’t for sissies. Today I’d like to review a new Swiss ball super stretch I’ve been using that has made a tremendous difference. Let’s dig in.

Posture, Aging, and Gravity

As we age, for most of us, we allow gravity, and a lifetime of sitting and looking down at tiny screens to cause our posture to collapse forward (as shown above). We usually don’t notice it until we see a picture of ourselves from the side or back and ask, “Is that me?”

What’s the problem with a forward head and rounded shoulders? The issue is that this causes more forces on the spinal discs and pulling on all of the central and posterior ligaments. The shoulder rotator cuff tendons begin to fail as well as the shoulder joint gets pushed forward. Further, the spinal and other nerves can get pinched. Suffice it to say that this postural decompensation is not a good thing.

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The Swiss Ball Super Stretch

I used to help my posture by performing a doorway stretch:

door stretch

That worked, but recently that stretch wasn’t keeping up with the effects of my advancing age and gravity. In addition, I lost weight on a new diet and was noticing sagging skin. So my wife suggested that I begin to stretch on a Swiss ball. After a week of perfecting my super stretch, I began to notice much better function. After several weeks, my sagging skin is gone. So first let’s go over the stretch and then I’ll discuss what happened in my body.

First, do not perform this stretch if you can’t tolerate neck or low back extension. This stretch also puts quite a bit of stress on the neck and back when you transition from lying flat to seated on the ball. Hence, if the front of your neck is a problem or you can’t perform a sit-up without a flare-up, stay away from this stretch. In addition, always clear these kinds of things with your doctor.

To follow along, click on my amateur video above.

Step 1

Sit on an appropriately sized Swiss ball.

Step 2

Lean back as you move the ball from your butt to the small of your back to the upper back. Do this very slowly to avoid hurting yourself.

Step 3

Lean your neck back so it’s supported by the ball with a good degree of extension and then allow your arms/hands to fall outward so that you feel a stretch in your chest. Hold this for a count of 30.

Step 4

Next, move the ball to the middle of your spine (between the upper and lower back). Again allow your arms to stretch outward while you count to 30.

Step 5

Finally, move the ball to your low back and slowly strengthen your legs. You should feel the stretch in the front of your hips. The goal here is to maximize the stretch of the Psoas muscles. Do this for a 30 count.

Step 6

Now slowly move back into a seated position. Meaning slowly begin to sit up. This is a transition that can injure some people, so take it very slowly and deliberately.

What Happened in My Body?

When you lose 25-30 pounds, it’s like deflating a balloon in your belly. Hence, 6 weeks ago I noticed that I had an epic amount of sagging skin in my belly. I even called a plastic surgeon’s office as all I could think about at the time was once I lost another 10 pounds, I would need to get this fixed. The cost? 10K if I wanted a simple skin tuck and 25K if I wanted a “tummy tuck”. That last surgery involves cutting the abdominal muscles, shortening them, and reattaching.

After a week or so of performing my super stretch daily, I noticed something getting dressed one morning. My saggy belly skin was gone. Why? How? If you look at the diagrams I drew above, when the posture is normal, the pelvis pulls on the red abdominal wall shown above. When the posture decompensates, that abdominal wall is loose and flabby. So all I did was to place normal pulling pressure on the abdominal wall again. This probably also stimulated the skin fibroblasts to tighten as pulling forces are a key clue for skin stem cells.

What would have happened if I let a plastic surgeon perform a tummy tuck? This procedure would have permanently pulled me into a bad decompensated posture and likely would have, over time, destroyed my neck, shoulders, and lower back.

Another benefit from my new posture was that my chronic lumbar nerve irritation calmed down a bit. That combined with lower whole-body inflammation (helped by losing weight), and fixing my knees with PRP led to an interesting event. I was going down the stairs in our home and my wife mistook my pace with my 22-year-old son’s. My pace used to be slower and deliberate, but this sounded quick and younger. She had me at “You sounded like Joe coming down those stairs”!

The upshot? This is a great stretch that has put a dent in my spinal aging curve! If it’s right for you (and it may not be), then give it a try and let me know how it works!

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Chris Centeno, MD is a specialist in regenerative medicine and the new field of Interventional Orthopedics. Centeno pioneered orthopedic stem cell procedures in 2005 and is responsible for a large amount of the published research on stem cell use for orthopedic applications. View Profile

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NOTE: This blog post provides general information to help the reader better understand regenerative medicine, musculoskeletal health, and related subjects. All content provided in this blog, website, or any linked materials, including text, graphics, images, patient profiles, outcomes, and information, are not intended and should not be considered or used as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Please always consult with a professional and certified healthcare provider to discuss if a treatment is right for you.

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