Stretching for Good Health: Do's & Don'ts
Ever wonder why the older you get, the harder it seems to get out of bed in the morning?
It’s not because you have a busy day ahead, it’s because your body is tired, achy, and stiff!
If that’s you, you’re not alone. Approximately 70% of Americans over the age of 50 have trouble bending down, reaching over, and moving around as well as they used to. In addition to that, it’s estimated that 91 million adults in the US are experiencing some type of arthritis (1, 2).
If one of your health goals this year is to be more active, you might be thinking of ways to ease into regular, physical exercise. And if you’re new to exercising as a whole, you’re probably wondering what the best approach is.
Should you walk first? Massage your muscles afterward? What about stretching?
An important but often overlooked component, stretching can make your fitness goals more relaxing, enjoyable, and effective.
But there are some rules, which is why in this article we’re bringing you the Do’s and Don’ts of stretching.
Why Stretching is Important
Stretching properly is important to staying safe, enjoying more flexibility, and hopefully a better workout. By flexing and extending arms, legs, back, hips, and more, you are encouraging blood flow and more flaccid tendons and ligaments (3).
Imagine being able to reach farther or bend down with greater ease, not limited to stiff joints. Stretching also keeps your muscles strong and healthy, as it encourages oxygen and blood flow to nourish and strengthen the cells (3).
Some of the other benefits of stretching include:
- Decreasing your risk for injury
- Increasing range of motion for joints
- Improve physical performance
- Enhance your ability to complete daily activities
You may not become an award-winning dancer, but less pain and greater mobility is a win any day of the week.
Common Mistakes During Stretching
Like anything unfamiliar, it’s common to make a few mistakes as you learn the ropes. The same goes for stretching.
Some of the typical mistakes people make when they begin stretching are (4):
- Holding your breath
- Not warming up
- Stretching injured muscles
- Using a technique improperly
- Not stretching often enough
Many of these can be easily avoided with the help of proper guidance, taking it slow, and having fun while you learn.
Stretching Do’s and Don’ts
Ok, so stretching needs to be more of a priority. But how can you be sure you’re doing it right?
DO make it a part of your regular exercise routine. Carve out an extra 10-20 minutes to warm up and cool down your muscles after you work out.
DON’T overdo it. Many people think if they stretch far enough, the pain they feel is a sign that it’s working. This is incorrect. The stretch should feel just like it sounds --- a stretch. It might feel a little uncomfortable, but if it begins to hurt you’re going too far and ought to ease up a bit.
DO stretch for at least 20 seconds. If you move on after 5 seconds of stretching, your body doesn’t have enough time to process what’s happening and won’t benefit fully from the motion. Give it the time it deserves before moving on to the next stretch.
DON’T bounce while you stretch. While it may sound fun to multi-task, bouncing while stretching can increase your chances of injuring yourself.
Related article: Workout Recovery: Herbs to Help You Recover Faster (8)
Types of Stretches to Try
By now you have an idea of why stretching is important. You’re also equipped with certain dos and don’ts. So what types of stretches do you have to choose from?
- Dynamic stretching: These types of stretches are done in a slow, controlled way. They help prepare muscles, ligaments, and other soft tissue for optimal safety and performance (5). Some examples of dynamic stretching include walking lunges, leg swings, and torso twists. These are great for warming up before a workout.
- Static stretching: This type of stretching involves extending or flexing a muscle as far as it will go and holding it for a set period of time (6). Most static stretches are held for between 20-45 seconds. Examples of static stretches include quadriceps stretches, calf, hamstring, shoulder, and upper back stretch. These stretches are best done as part of a cool-down regimen.
Back to You
You don’t have to be a professional athlete to appreciate the benefits of stretching. Not only can it relax the body after a sweat sesh, it can also lower feelings of pain, loosen up stiff joints, and keep your body healthy and happy.
When it comes to stretching, less is more in the beginning. Take it slow, ask an instructor or coach if you need guidance, and always listen to your body. Stretching should take you to the edge of your comfort zone, but not push you over the edge into pain or injury.
And the best part is, you can mix and match different stretches depending on the day, exercise, and your mood!
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✝✝This noted statement is based on independent research and is not necessarily the opinion of the author