Stretching is an easy way to improve your health, yet it's often the most neglected part of people's fitness regimens. Stretching can reduce your injury risk and help you become more limber, regardless of your age and physical condition.
In its most basic form, stretching is a natural and automatic action. People often stretch instinctively after waking from sleep or after long periods of inactivity.
While the benefits of daily exercise are numerous and well known, the benefits of a regular stretching routine are far less emphasized but just as important. Incorporating stretching into your daily workouts or into your regular day on their own is just as important to health and body functioning as regular exercise.
The benefits of stretching include:
- relief from pain
- increased energy levels
- increased flexibility
- better range of motion
- improved blood circulation
- relaxation and stress relief
- enhanced coordination
- improved posture
- a greater sense of well-being
More about the benefits of stretching
Increased flexibility and range of motion
As we age, our muscles tighten and we have less range of motion in our joints. Simple activities that we once took for granted, like cutting our toenails, picking things up from the floor or zipping a dress, can all become difficult. A regular stretching program can help lengthen your muscles and make these daily activities easier and more enjoyable.
Stretching improves circulation of blood to the muscles and joints. Increased blood circulation, of course, brings nutrients to our cells and removes waste byproducts.
Chronically tense and tight muscles contribute to poor posture, which in turn can affect the functioning of our internal organs, not to mention our appearance. Stretching the muscles of the lower back, shoulders and chest can help keep the back in better alignment and improve posture.
Relaxation and stress relief
When done properly, stretching helps to relax tense muscles which result from stress. The feeling of relaxation brings a sense of well-being and relief from tension.
Reduce or prevent lower back pain
Greater flexibility and range of motion in the hamstrings and muscles of the hips and pelvis help to reduce the stress on your spine that causes lower back pain.
"Simple Exercises to Make You Limber"
No matter what your fitness level, stretching is a valuable activity to add to your daily workout routine.
Although stretching is simple to do, it's often the most ignored part of people's fitness regimens, according to the American Council on Exercise. Stretching can reduce your risk for injury and help you become more limber, regardless of your age and physical condition.
Stretching can improve your circulation and posture because it helps increase your range of motion, strength, coordination, and flexibility.
Regular stretching reduces muscle tension and promotes freer movement. It should be comfortable and relaxing. You should never stretch to the point of pain. When you stretch, work at your own pace and within your own limits.
As with any other fitness program, be sure to check with your health care provider before beginning a stretching routine. This is especially important if you have arthritis, joint dysfunction, or back problems. Stretching can be helpful to people with these conditions. But some exercises may overstress the joints. Here are some basic things to remember:
- Stretch after you do your regularly scheduled strength and endurance exercises.
- If you can't do endurance or strength exercises for some reason, and stretching exercises are the only kind you are able to do, do them at least 3 times a week, for at least 20 minutes each session.
- Do each stretching exercise 3 times to 5 times at each session.
- Slowly stretch into the desired position, as far as possible without pain. Hold the stretch for 10 seconds to 30 seconds. Relax. Repeat, trying to stretch farther.
The U.S. National Institute on Aging gives the following safety recommendations:
- If you have had a hip replacement, check with your surgeon before doing lower body exercises.
- If you have had a hip replacement, don't cross your legs or bend your hips past a 90° angle.
- Always warm up before stretching exercises. (You can do them after endurance or strength exercises or, if you are doing only stretching exercises on a particular day, do a little bit of easy walking and arm-pumping first). Stretching your muscles before they are warmed up may result in injury.
- Stretching should never cause pain, especially joint pain. If it does, you are stretching too far. You need to reduce the stretch so that it doesn't hurt.
- Mild discomfort or a mild pulling sensation is normal.
- Never "bounce" into a stretch. Make slow, steady movements instead. Jerking into position can cause muscles to tighten. This might result in injury.
- Avoid "locking" your joints into place when you straighten them during stretches. Your arms and legs should be straight when you stretch them, but don't lock them in a tightly straight position. You should always have a very small amount of bending in your joints while stretching.
You can do the following stretches while sitting at your desk or standing in your work area. Doing them a few times a day will help release the muscle tension in your hands, arms, shoulders, and back.
Do each stretch to the point of light tightness. Move your body slowly and gently.
Breathe deeply and regularly. Exhale as you bend into a stretch. Breathe in a controlled, rhythmic manner while you're in the stretch.
Reach your arms out in front of you and rotate your wrists 10 times in a clockwise direction, then 10 times counterclockwise.
Arms and hands
Clasp your hands together in front of your chest at shoulder height. Extend your arms forward until you feel a stretch in your upper back, shoulders, arms, and hands. Hold for 15 seconds and relax. Repeat for 30 seconds.
Arms and shoulders
Lift 1 arm in front of you as if to grab something. Then use the other arm to pull the outstretched arm gently across the chest so that the muscles are stretched. Hold for 15 seconds and relax. Repeat for another 15 seconds to 30 seconds. Repeat, using your left arm.
Neck and shoulders
Sit tall in a chair. Let your right arm down and grasp the seat. Then try to tip the head toward the left side. Holding onto the seat keeps your shoulders level during the stretch. Hold for 15 seconds and relax. Repeat for another 15 seconds to 30 seconds. Repeat, using your left arm.
Bring your arms behind your back and link your fingers with your palms facing inward. Straighten your arms and lift them up until you feel a stretch in your arms, shoulders, and chest. Hold for 15 seconds and relax. Repeat the stretch for another 15 seconds to 30 seconds.
Sit tall in your chair and try to turn to grab the back of the chair while keeping your feet flat on the floor. Hold for 15 seconds and relax. Repeat the stretch turning to the other side.
Cross 1 ankle onto the opposite knee and sit tall. Then, lean forward from your hips, keeping your chest upright. This stretches the outer hip, which is the reason for many back problems. Hold for 15 seconds and relax. Repeat using the other leg.
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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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