For years any exercise program worth its salt has included flexibility exercise in the routine, however, in recent years stretching has become controversial. So what‘s a person to do? The fitness and orthopaedic communities have for many years held the belief that stretching is good because we thought it prevented injuries. As it turns out, in certain circumstances, stretching may actually increase the likelihood of injury. So the question remains: to stretch or not to stretch?
Here’s why stretching is important: Stretching helps maintain range of motion, counteracts those hours spent slouched over a desk by stretching out muscles that have been restricted all day, improves blood flow, and helps keep the body limber. The key to this last benefit is that it keeps you limber, not that it necessarily makes you limber. If you’ve never managed to successfully touch your toes, even as a child, but you finally decide to start stretching at age 50, don’t expect a flexibility miracle! In fact, some studies have shown that individuals can have up to 50 stretching sessions with only minimal improvement in flexibility. That’s over a month of daily stretching! Your efforts to limber up, will, however, limit the loss of flexibility that happens with joints through the aging process.
Now that you understand that stretching can help limit your loss of flexibility, when should you do it? Stretching should be performed either after a 5-10 minute warm up, for example doing some light cardio before going out for that brisk jog, after exercise, or any time you need it so long as your muscles are not cold. A good time for this would be after a warm shower. Another great time to stretch is while you are reading something on the computer. Reach your hands over your head, bend over and touch your toes, roll your head around to stretch your neck, and put one foot on the opposite knee and bend forward slightly. These are all stretches you don’t even need to stand up to do! If you’ve been sitting at the computer for longer than you’d like to admit, stand up, walk around the room for a minute or two, and then stretch.
If it’s hard for you to remember to stretch, set a reminder on your calendar, mobile device, or even a simple egg timer to remind you to stretch throughout the day.