#TryItTuesday: Stretching Your Way to Good Health
As I continue on this journey of getting fit at 50, I’m amazed at how a few small changes can dramatically impact my overall well-being.
One such small change was adding five minutes of stretching to my morning routine. With this small change, I start my day more energized, and my body feels much less achy throughout the day. We often hear about the importance of stretching before and after exercising, and until recently, I never thought about the benefits of adding it to my morning routine, too.
What is Stretching?
As we age, our muscles and joints weaken, and our range of motion often deteriorates. Stretching is the deliberate lengthening of muscles in order to increase muscle flexibility and joint range of motion.
Benefits of Stretching and Flexibility
No matter what our age, young or old, our body and mind benefits from stretching.
The more we stretch, the more we move our muscles, and the more flexible we become. Over time, I’ve noticed that stretching is becoming easier and my flexibility is beginning to improve. I’m also finding that it’s getting easier to bend over to tie my shoes, or pick up the grandchildren’s toys.
Posture and Injury Prevention
Did you know that stretching can improve our posture? Since incorporating stretching into my daily routine, I’ve noticed my posture is improving. This has significantly decreased my end of the day back soreness.
When we stretch before exercise, our risk of injury is decreased. When muscles are warm and stretched, movement becomes easier and more fluid-like which helps with injury prevention.
Increased blood supply, nutrients and reduced soreness
I knew that stretching increases blood supply, but I did not realize that stretching also increases nutrient supply to our muscles. Because stretching allows blood to flow through our bodies, the nutrients in the blood are being carried and spread out all throughout our bodies as well, which helps decrease muscle soreness.
Reduced Risk of Falling, Calmed Mind
The risk of falling is a significant concern as we age. Each year one out of three older adults will fall, with 2.5 million individuals needing treatment in emergency facilities annually. Research shows that a regular routine of daily stretching is essential to balance and stability helping prevent against falls.
When taking stretching breaks throughout the day, it allows our mind a mental break, and the increased blood flow can refresh and recharge us.
Released Muscle Tension and More Energy
My shoulders and neck are the main areas I carry my stress. By taking a few minutes throughout the day to stretch this area, I’ve had a significant decrease in muscle tension and headaches.
For me, this is one of the best benefits of stretching. It makes sense that an increase in blood and nutrient flow would have me feeling more invigorated. I love how such a simple thing as adding a few stretches throughout my day can have such a significant impact on how my body feels.
To make stretching a success, remember these few tips:
- Warm up first. Stretching muscles when they're cold increases our risk of pulled muscles. I like to warm up by walking while gently pumping your arms for a few minutes.
- It is essential to understand the proper technique. Make sure that you are stretching correctly in order to prevent injury. Incorrect stretching can be harmful to your muscles.
- When stretching, focus on major muscle tendons such as neck, shoulders, upper back, lower back, pelvis, hips, and legs.
- When you stretch the major muscles in your body, you will receive the most benefits to improve your flexibility throughout your whole body.
- Hold stretches for at least 30 seconds — and up to 60 seconds for a really tight muscle or problem area. When stretching, 30 seconds can seem like forever. To help make sure I’m stretching long enough, I wear a watch or keep an eye on the clock.
- Focus on a pain-free stretch. If you feel pain as you stretch, you've gone too far. Back off to the point where you don't feel any pain, then hold the stretch.
- Don't hold your breath while you're stretching.
- Don’t bounce when you stretch. This can cause small tears (microtears) in the muscle, which leave scar tissue as the muscle heals. The scar tissue tightens the muscle even further, making us even less flexible — and more prone to pain.
- Make sure to stretch both sides.
- If you are injured and already have a tense muscle, do not overwork it.
- Stretching does not need to be time-consuming. I take five minutes in the morning, and then a few minutes every few hours throughout my workday. Like most healthy habits, we achieve the most benefit from stretching when we are consistent.
If you have any health condition or questions on the safety of adding stretching to your daily routine, please check with your health care provider.