Stretching: The Why's and How's!
Stretching keeps muscles flexible, strong, and healthy, and we need that flexibility to maintain a range of motion in the joints. Without it, the muscles shorten and become tight. If this occurs, when you call on the muscles for an activity they are weak and unable to extend all the way. That can cause joint pain, strains, and muscle damage. Healthy muscles also help a person with balance problems to avoid falls.
You don't have to stretch every muscle. "The areas critical for mobility are in your lower body: your calves, your hamstrings, your hip flexors (in the pelvis), and quadriceps (in the front of the thigh)." Stretching your shoulders, neck, and lower back is also beneficial. Plan to do daily stretches (or at least three or four times per week).
Tips for stretching safely
• Avoid stretching cold. Before you begin, it’s a good idea to get your blood flowing. Doing a low-intensity activity like walking for a few minutes can help. Hold a stretch for 30 seconds. Always stretch gently. You should feel tension, but not pain. Avoid bouncing while you’re stretching.
• Make stretching a routine and a regular habit. Plan on doing your routine at least two to three times per week.
• Stretch both sides. to avoid flexibility imbalances.
Place your right foot forward and bend into a lunge, placing your fingertips on the floor or on two firm cushions if your hands don’t reach. Take a breathe in, exhale as you straighten your right leg. Slowly return to the lunge position. Repeat four times. Switch sides.
Stand with your feet together and your arms raised straight up. Lace your fingers with pointer fingers extended. Inhale as you reach upward. Breathe out and bend your upper body to the right. Take five slow breaths. Slowly return to the center. Repeat on the left side.
Place your feet hip-distance apart and slightly bend your knees. Lace your fingers behind your back. (If your hands don’t touch, hold on to a dish towel.) Breathe in and straighten your arms to expand your chest.
Exhale and bend at your waist, letting your hands stretch toward your head. Hold for five deep breaths.