Just by doing 10 to 15 minutes of stretching a day, you can improve your posture dramatically, reduce your stress load, burn some calories and provide your body with a host of other health benefits. Stretching improves the blood flow, can help improve your physical performance if you are engaged in athletic performance and reduce the risk of injury when performed correctly. Because stretching increases the blood flow to the muscles, increased nutrients are supplied to them and the rest of your body. Stretching also promotes the production of synovial fluid — the lubricating fluid in the joints. Therefore people who stretch experience less joint pain and have decreased risk of joint degeneration.
By improving your range of motion, your more flexible body is less likely to be injured during workouts or during daily tasks. Recent research has also shown that static stretching after a workout can reduce muscle soreness. Static stretching is long, slow, gradual and sustained movements that involve a controlled elongation of the muscle through its full range of motion. The stretch is optimally held for at least 20 to 30 seconds in the farthest position that can be sustained without pain. This type of stretching improves posture as well. And as we age, we naturally fall into some very bad postural habits and use poor body mechanics to do our daily activities. Stretching helps us regain what we lost.
One of the most notable benefits of stretching for many people is the relief that they get from low back pain. Because many of us sit for extended period throughout the day, our low backs become contracted and stiff leading to pain and stress. By stretching out the hip flexors, the hamstrings and the quadriceps we can reduce the pull on the low back and relax those muscles.
Stretching can also not be just the end part of a workout but it can be the whole workout. Think of yoga, for example, which is a full body/mind stretching exercise routine. At any level of yoga, you will begin to feel the benefits of stretching. And when you are stronger and more flexible, your posture naturally will improve. Yoga also helps with body awareness and is a calming, stress reducing practice. Yoga has been shown by various studies to reduce high blood pressure, slow the heart rate, lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
Experts recommend that flexibility training be included in every workout, usually four to seven days a week. The best place for stretching is at the end of the workout after the muscle and body are warm and more pliable. This is also a time to focus on relaxation and physical and mental recovery. Stretching should not be painful but should feel like a slight tension in the muscle. It is important to breathe throughout the stretch, too. Holding your breath does not reduce your tension! Dynamic stretching is the type of stretching that is done before an exercise and it is more like taking the muscle groups through their range of motion in preparation for the work to come. Stretching should never be ballistic or bouncy but thoughtful and slow.
As with any type of exercise, pay attention to your body. If it hurts that is a sign that something is wrong so don’t push past your limits but work up to increasing your range of motion over time. Many of the movements in yoga are named after animals because they resemble the movements that animals wisely include in their daily plan. Stretch your limits!
Jane Riley, M.S., B.A., C.P.T., Certified Nutritional Adviser, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 212-1451 or www.janerileyfitness.com.