Ten years from now, if you still want to reach down and slip into your shoes, the best way to get there is by stretching today. Stretching not only promotes flexibility in your muscles and joints, but also relieves tension throughout your body, and even helps to develop balancing skills. Plus, stretching can prevent injuries by giving you a wider range of motion. Speaking of injuries, there are good and bad ways to stretch.
DO IT AFTER EXERCISE: You don’t want to stretch when your muscles haven’t warmed up, because you could cause a tendon tear. That’s why the best time to stretch is after you’ve worked out. It helps to relieve post-exercise sore muscles and lengthens individual muscle fibers.
STRETCH REGULARLY: Even if you’re not working out, make sure to stretch every third day for five to ten minutes, in order to keep your muscles supple. If your muscles are particularly tight, you may want to perform gentle stretching more often.
USE STATIC STRETCHING. Don’t bounce or bob. Instead, hold an elongated pose for the count of twenty seconds.
STRETCH WHAT’S TIGHT: Sure your calves may need a good stretch, but don’t forget your jaw, neck, shoulders – even your hands and wrists.
TAKE YOUR TIME: Don’t hurry through a routine. Perform the exercises with conscious care to prevent injuries.
USE SUPPORT: If some stretches are difficult at the beginner level, use a wall, friend or chair to help you maintain balance.
DON’T OVERDO IT: Once a muscle has reached its absolute maximum length, attempting to stretch it further may cause undue stress to your ligaments and tendons. And, mever stretch where’s there’s injury unless under medical supervision.
BREATHE: When you’re lengthening, breathe out and when you’re contracting a muscle breathe in. Both should be done deeply.
As always, check with your doctor before beginning any exercise or stretching program.
Robin Westen is ThirdAge’s medical reporter. Check for her daily updates. Her newest book, co-authored with Dr. Alyssa Dweck, is “V Is For Vagina.”