Stretching, the most neglected component of fitness, offers huge benefits. Seems many exercise enthusiasts quickly flee the scene after completing cardio and strength workouts, feeling that stretching is just something to do, if and when they have extra time. However, stretching, when performed correctly, plays a pivotal role in maintaining freedom of movement by reducing muscle tension, thereby improving range of motion. While tight muscles can lead to muscle strain and fatigue, lower back discomfort, incorrect postural alignment and poor balance, being more flexible will make everyday activities easier to perform and help seniors to remain active and more agile as they age. A special reward from taking time to stretch is that it is very relaxing and just feels good.
Flexibility differs from person to person and from joint to joint. Some activities that encourage stretching are yoga, tai chi, Pilates, swimming, ballet and modern dance.
• Warm up before stretching: If you are beginning a workout, current research favors the belief that stretching cold (not warmed up) could reduce performance and possibly cause muscle strains. Instead, it is recommended to warm up gradually for five to 10 minutes, performing mildly active aerobic movements such as knee lifts with arm swings, brisk walking, light jogging, flowing yoga movements. You want to rev up the circulation, increasing blood flow to the muscles, preparing your body for the more strenuous activity that is coming.
• No bouncing: Bouncing into the stretch is called ballistic stretching, which is not recommended, as it may cause overstretching of the muscle, ligaments or tendons. It involves a repetitive bouncing movement into the stretch to force movement beyond normal range of motion. Keep in mind it is better to under-stretch than overstretch.
• Static stretching: In this, the most popular form of stretching, you stretch the muscle until you feel mild tension, holding for 10 to 30 seconds and repeating two or three times. You never should experience pain. Stretching to improve flexibility is most effective after exercising, when muscles are still warm. And you don't need to save stretching for designated workout times. It's okay to stretch any time during the day, when you want to reduce feelings of tightness and stress, but don't forget to do a mini warmup.
Check with your doctor before starting a new exercise program. Sally Anderson is happy to hear from readers but can't respond to individual inquiries. Reach her at [email protected]