Living limber becomes more difficult as you age, but stretching
may keep you from getting all bent out of shape
Think back to when you were a child: Healthy habits
like stretching were the least of your concerns. Back then, acting
out Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes was fun, and picking up the
rock during hopscotch was nearly effortless. Now, the song may not
go much further than "knees," and your hopscotch partner may need
to lend a stabilizing hand when you go for that rock.
As we age and become less active, our muscles tighten and our
acquired flexibility is lost. Regular stretching is an important
way to maintain your body's freedom of movement and
improve flexibility. Not only does increased flexibility make
it easier to perform daily tasks, it also provides numerous health
benefits. Learning to "live limber" will keep your body feeling
youthful and your muscles in a childlike bliss.
The ABCs of Stretching
The best news about flexibility training is that it's easy.
Whether you're going to sit at your desk all day or engage in
strenuous physical activity, it's important to take a few minutes
before and after to stretch your muscles.
The American Council on Exercise (ACE) recommends stretching at
least three times per week. Your first step should be to consult
your doctor, who can evaluate the range of motion in each of your
joints and help you devise a proper stretching routine.
Once a regimen is in place, follow this advice from Fabio
Comana, an exercise physiologist from ACE:
Warm up. Just stretching cold muscles is strictly
temporary and will not be beneficial. Take a five-minute walk,
cycle or jog to get blood flowing.
Start slowly. Exhale as you gently stretch the
Hold it. ACE recommends holding each stretch for at
least 15 to 30 seconds.
Stay steady. Never bounce a stretch. It is
ineffective and causes an automatic muscle contraction, which works
against your stretch and can lead to muscle injury.
Try focusing. Stretching shouldn't cause pain, just
pleasant tension. If you feel pain, ease up.
Breathe rhythmically. Don't hold your breath during
Follow up. Make sure to repeat your stretches more
thoroughly after activity. Stretching has the best effect when done
with warm muscles.
Add in massage. Massage techniques can help
improve flexibility by releasing constricted muscle tissue, thereby
returning length to the resting muscle.
Lengthening your muscles does wonders for your
body and your mind. That's because, both physical
and mental stress have a negative effect on your muscles. One
benefit of stretching is an improvement of blood circulation, which
aids in illness recovery and disease prevention. Elongating muscles
will also improve posture and your joints' range of motion.
Stretching may be even more important for someone who is
physically active. Loose muscles are less prone to strains and
sprains during a workout, according to ACE, and incorporating
stretching into a fitness routine also will help reduce soreness
after a workout. Stretching beforehand will allow greater freedom
of movement when exercising and longer workout periods because it
helps prevent a buildup of lactic acid in your blood.
The most comforting benefit of stretching, though, is an
increased sense of relaxation. Habitual stretching keeps muscles
from getting tight, which relieves tension and reduces stress. But
remember: Stretching should be done in moderation. Holding your
stretch in a painful position will cause the muscle tissue to tear.
Getting a massage is one way to relax stressed muscles and
stimulate blood flow. It accelerates the healing process and
minimizes post-exercise soreness, according to ACE.
-By Jen Bondeson