Stretching your way to health
While having strength and endurance are important, flexibility is just as important component to optimal physical health. Lack of flexibility is a main culprit for many aches and pains. In the aging population tight muscles and joints make daily tasks difficult, even those as simple as getting out of bed in the morning or bending down to tie your shoes. In the more active population, tight muscles may lead to unnecessary muscle strains and joint sprains resulting in unwanted time away from favorite activities. Tightness in someone with a sit-down office job contributes not only to lower back pain, but also to headaches, neck pain and fatigue.
Adding a simple stretch to your daily routine or improving your flexibility in general may therefore contribute to the following:
- Reduced muscle tension
- Reduced occurrence of headaches
- Less injuries associated with sport, daily living and home activity
- Protection from falls and awkward movements of daily living
- Increased energy
- Improved coordination
- Improved posture
- Greater Focus
- Increased circulation and thus increased transportation of various nutrients as well as the removal of waste products
- Daily activities are performed with greater ease
- Improved performance as a result of the greater elasticity of the surrounding tissues
Tips for flexibility training:
With the above benefits in mind, use the following tips to design the perfect stretching program for you.
- Warm up the muscles before you stretch. This may include walking or light jogging for a few minutes. If the tissues of the body are not warm or extensible, you may be unable to stretch the muscles to their full range of motion.
- Stretch opposing muscles. A stretching session should involve at least one stretch for each major muscle group and should include opposing muscles. (Opposing muscles are those such as the hamstrings and quadriceps, or the biceps and triceps.) Including both of the opposing muscles prevents many injuries associated with imbalances in muscle tension.
- Stretch three days a week. A flexibility program must be performed a minimum of three days per week. For best results you should stretch daily.
- Do it multiple times. Repeat each stretch three to five times and hold the stretch for 20 to 30 seconds.
- Breathe. Don’t forget to breathe throughout your stretch. Breathe slowly, in through the nose and out through the mouth. Try to lengthen the stretch each time you exhale.
- Never stretch to the point of pain. The muscle fibers must be relaxed to be stretched, so bring the muscle only to the end of its range of motion.
Do you find stretching too time consuming?
We always seem to be too busy to stretch. However, a few stretches after a hot shower in the morning, or a few stretches focusing on your hamstrings at work can make all the difference in the world. If you’re at the gym get your stretches in between strength exercises or during your rest periods. If you’re exercising at home, get your stretches in during a commercial break or while relaxing to some music.
Dr. Natasha Vani BSc, MSc, ND