If you’re one of the 71 percent of us who decided to get more fit this year, you may be feeling a little stiff and sore now. The culprit is tight, inflamed fascia, which plagues 90 percent of women over age 40, says Sara Gottfried, M.D., author of Brain Body Diet ($12.99, Amazon).
Fascia is the massive web of connective tissue that helps muscles move and provides structure to blood vessels, intestines and skin. Dr. Gottfried explains that stretching and healing fascia helps you stay nimble and pain-free.
Get up like a cat.
Cats stretch when they stand — and you should too! According to a Canadian research team, taking 30 seconds to stretch your arms, legs, sides and back each time you stand flushes cellular wastes out of fascia, plus encourages this tissue to stay relaxed as you move, improving flexibility by 35 percent and cutting your aches and pains in half if you make it a habit.
Use a foam roller.
Applying gentle pressure to tight fascia using a foam roller can relax and loosen this tissue, helping you feel more flexible and mobile — often from the first time you try it, studies suggest. To do: Put a foam roller (you’ll find them in stores like Walmart) on the floor and rest a sore muscle — like your lower back or leg — on top of it; roll back and forth gently for 30 seconds.
Warm yourself up.
Muscles relax when you warm them up, and so does your fascia. A review of 40 studies suggests sitting in a sauna for 20 minutes twice weekly cuts tightness and soreness by 44 percent, plus doubles your production of fascia-healing compounds. Adds study co-author Marc Cohen, Ph.D., infrared saunas (in health clubs) warm tissues without heating the air and are as healing as regular saunas.
Savor tuna tacos.
Fish is packed with fascia-healing oils — no wonder UCLA researchers say enjoying four fish dishes weekly cuts pain and stiffness as effectively as painkillers. Adds neurosurgeon Joseph C. Maroon, M.D., the best sources are fatty fish like albacore tuna, salmon and mackerel. Note: Taking 2,000 mg. of fish oil daily also helps, but check with your doctor before supplementing.
This story originally appeared in our print magazine.