Here’s a quick task for you (after you check my previous Tabata post and re-read the disclaimer about exercising!) – reach your arms WAY over your head and streeeetch it up! Feel your spine lengthen, your arms press up, and your rib cage expand! Ahhhh!!
Stretching regularly should be a part of a healthy life. Any activity you do – walking, running, lifting groceries, pulling weeds – your muscles are going to be contracting and flexing. And stretching has its role, too. Of course, if you have any condition, you should check with a doctor or physical therapist about proper care in stretching – it is possible to damage something if you’re not supposed to be stretching it in certain ways.
The Mayo Clinic gives 4 reasons why stretching is important. Now reach both arms to your right and try to twist your spine to reach back even farther on your right as though you’re trying to look behind you, then look back here! You can use the chair to help deepen the stretch.
- Stretching increases flexibility: Big deal, right? If you’re not trying to be a yoga guru or contortionist, who cares, right!? Wrong! As you age, you’ll naturally begin to lose the flexibility and muscle performance – this can be needed for even menial tasks like lifting your laundry baskets, bending to tie shoes, or bending your knees to walk up a set of stairs. And if you have better flexibility, it can make these and other tasks easier and less tiring. So rotate that spine the other way, and twist your arms out to the left, and keep yourself loose and limber!
- Stretching improves range of motion in your joints: Range of motion helps with better balance and fewer injuries from daily tasks. This is especially important as you age – elderly people have more of a tendency to lose their balance, and due to usually weaker bones, risk more damage from a fall than a younger person. Even if your not at a wizened age, begin implementing preventative care. Stand up, and reach towards your toes! (Or, if you’re refusing to get out of your chair, straighten your legs in front of you, and reach that way.) Perhaps you can practically fold herself in half; or barely touch your knees. Either way is fine! Just listen to your body about what is comfortable yet still gives a slight challenge. Find your own edge, breathe smoothly, and know that your range of motion will improve with practice.
- Stretching improves circulation: get that blood flowing! Blood is precious in your body – you need it to get to your heart, to your muscles, and to the joints. And if you’re trying to recover after a good workout and you have those sore muscles, stretching can help speed that recovery. Lean your head forward as though you’re trying to rest your chin on your chest. Sit up straight, keep the spine aligned, and gently stretch those neck muscles.
- Stretching can relieve stress: it helps relax tight muscles – whether they are tight from exercise, or tight from stress. Let it go, my dear. Stretch it out!
Aaaand take a big, calming breath. Take another. And a third, final slow breath.
Start to make stretching a standard part of your week (or even a daily activity.) Here are some pointers from the Mayo Clinic about good stretching and safe stretching:
- Focus on major muscle groups, such as calves, thighs, hips, lower back, neck, and shoulders. Also focus on muscles and joints that you use routinely.
- Warm up first, or exercise first. It’s good to have a little blood flow going already – walk a few minutes, swing your arms or legs… or just stretch after exercise.
- Pace yourself. Reach slowly – don’t thrust too fast or too roughly into a position; hold about 30 seconds, relax, repeat. Do 3-4 times.
- Don’t bounce! This can actually cause small tears in your muscle (not the good kind used to build muscle), which can leave scar tissue, thereby tightening the muscle more as it tries to heal. This can lead to less flexibility and make you more prone to pain.
- It shouldn’t hurt. Expect tension, but not pain. If it hurts, you’ve gone too far, so back off a little and hold on that edge.
- Relax and breathe – don’t hold your breath.
- Ultimately, it’s up to you how often you stretch. But it’s good to try to stretch after exercising, or at least 3 times a week. You may want to do it more if you have tight joints or muscles.
- Know when to exercise caution. Don’t damage anything! Learn what feels right, and listen to your body.
I hope that about sums it all up for you! Have a great week!