We all know how important exercise is, but people may not know the benefits of daily stretching. According to the National Library of Medicine, our muscles greatly reduce in mass and become increasingly stiff as we age. On top of improving range of motion and reducing risk of injury, stretching can increase blood flow for a clearer mind and better energy throughout the day.
Let's go over the benefits of stretching and how you can start to incorporate it into your daily routine.
Benefits of stretching
As we age, we lose muscle tone and bone density, which both contribute to decreased flexibility. By improving your flexibility, you are able to enjoy activities that are otherwise too difficult. Aside from enhancing your quality of life, better flexibility may:
- Improve physical activity performance
- Reduce the risk of injury
- Help joints achieve full range of motion
- Increase muscle blood flow
- Make muscles work more efficiently
- Enhance ability to do daily activities
How to properly stretch
- Start after a light warm-up. You may hurt yourself if you stretch cold muscles. Before you start your stretching exercise, warm up with light walking, jogging or biking for a few minutes.
- Focus on muscle groups. Concentrate on certain muscle groups such as calves, hamstrings, thighs, hips, lower back, neck and shoulders. Routinely stretch muscles that you use often, and be sure to keep your other muscles engaged with simple stretches.
- Keep it symmetrical. Flexibility that isn’t equal on both sides of the body or muscle group can put you at an elevated risk of injury. Be sure to focus on attaining equal flexibility throughout your stretching exercises.
- Fight the impulse to bounce. Stretch in smooth movements. Bouncing as you stretch can injure your muscles and contribute to muscle tightness.
- Hold your stretch. Focus your breath and hold each stretch for about 30 seconds. If you are working on a problem area, you may need to hold for an additional 30 seconds.
- Aim for tension, not pain. It's normal — and healthy — to experience tension while stretching, but not pain. If your stretches hurt, you've pushed too far.
- Make it enjoyable. Activities like tai chi, yoga and pilates can make stretching more enjoyable and effective. These dynamic exercises are a great way to engage your muscles — and they can be a lot of fun!
Stretching through the ages
Depending on your age, sex and ability, your body may have different priorities. The wonderful thing about stretching is that it can be scaled up or down to fit your personal needs. So let's take a look at some must-do stretches for each age group.
- Stretching in your 20s. For young, healthy individuals, it's easy to overlook flexibility and stretching. Focusing on your core muscle groups will help prevent injury when participating in sports and other activities. For younger adults, dynamic stretching exercises can be more engaging and enjoyable.
- Stretching in your 30s, 40s and 50s. These decades are known as our 'working years.' For many people, work is a sedentary activity. Be sure to keep your lumbar spine active with rotation exercises. Additionally, you'll want to engage your neck, back and hip flexors often.
- Stretching from 60 and beyond. In this stage of life, it's important to stay active, healthy and independent. Yoga stretches are especially helpful for seniors who might have issues with balance, joint health or blood pressure. Additionally, back stretches are a great way to improve your balance and get your blood pumping. Using an exercise band to assist with stretches is a great way to increase flexibility without risking injury.
Whatever you do, be sure to stretch at your own pace. At El Camino Health, we offer several classes — including yoga, tai chi and other activities — that will help you improve your balance and reduce the risk of injury. Take a look at our classes and events today!
This article first appeared in the May 2022 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter.