Stretching for your health
By Gregg Newby
If you’re like most people, you probably yawn and stretch the first thing every morning. Whether you lift your arms or arch your back, it probably comes naturally to you.
But if that’s all the stretching you do in a day, you may be missing out on some important health benefits. Don’t believe it? Take a look at the fitness routines that have been built around the concept of increasing flexibility. They include:
- Tai chi
- Martial arts
These and other workout programs focus on increasing flexibility because of its overall importance. Among other things, it may:
- Improve posture
- Relieve some soreness
- Help with stress
- Increase overall muscular strength
But you have to be careful how you go about it. Talk to your doctor before you get started – especially if you have not been active, or have an injury or condition that might require extra care. If you haven’t done much stretching before, it might be a good idea to work with a trainer first. Enrolling in a basic yoga or tai chi class can help you get started, too.
There are a few other ground rules. For starters, you shouldn’t hold your breath when stretching. It’s preferable to keep breathing normally. In addition, you should:
- Go into a stretch slowly to avoid injury
- Hold each stretch for 15 to 30 seconds
- Release and then repeat a few more times
- Establish a routine to ensure you stretch all major muscle groups
You also need to warm up first. Otherwise, you could accidentally injure yourself. Start by walking for five to 10 minutes with arms swinging from side to side, or by jogging in place.
Commit to flexibility training
Strive to make it part of your overall fitness program. Along with aerobic and strength training, experts advise doing three 30-minute sessions of flexibility training each week.
And remember that stretching is not supposed to be painful. You should feel some muscle tension, but not actual pain. If it hurts, ease off. Don’t resume stretching until you are pain-free.
If you aren’t sure how to get started, you could join a basic class at a gym or the Y, such as tai chi or yoga. Not only will you get a thorough workout, it will also be easier to keep to a regular stretching program.
The health benefits could stretch for years to come.
- National Institute on Aging. About stretching exercises. Accessed: 07/14/2010
- Stanziano DC, Roos BA, Perry AC, Lai S, Signorile JF. The effects of an active-assisted stretching program on functional performance in elderly persons: a pilot study. Clinical Interventions in Aging. 2009;4(1):115-120.
- American Council on Exercise. Fit facts: Flexible benefits. 2009. Accessed: 07/14/2010
- Rassier DE. Stretching human muscles makes them stronger. Journal of Applied Physiology. 2007;102(1):5-6.
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