I have two cats, and I envy their ability to s-t-r-e-t-c-h oh so luxuriously. A good stretch feels wonderful. But it’s also good for your health. Stretching, and other forms of flexibility training, offer numerous wellness benefits, including:
- Reducing the overall feeling of stiffness in your body
- Improving the range of motion of your joints, which allows you to perform everyday activities more easily, such as getting in and out of bed, lifting packages, or bending to tie your shoes
- Opening up your circulation
- Improving your posture
- Stress relief, especially because stretching relaxes tight, tense muscles
- Improving your balance and coordination
- Reducing your risk of injuries
- Helping you stay active as you age
Stretching essentially involves carefully and gently elongating your muscles in order to make them more pliable. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, stretching or flexibility activities should be performed at least two or three days per week, but ideally five to seven days a week. Stretching is something you can do anytime, anywhere, and without the need for a gym or special equipment.
An effective stretching program includes six steps:
- A warm up. You can do this by walking at a low to moderate intensity for about 5 minutes. Stretching “cold” increases the risk of pulling or injuring your muscles.
- Stretch each major muscle group in your body.
- Stretch until you feel slight tension, not pain or discomfort.
- Hold each stretch for 15 to 30 seconds, and do not bounce. Bouncing while stretching can cause your muscle tissues to tear, which can lead to scar tissue buildup, which ultimately reduces your overall flexibility.
- Relax and breathing freely. Avoid holding your breath while you stretch.
- Repeat each stretch two to four times.
In addition to cardio and strength training, this important component of fitness can dramatically improve your health and your quality of life. Ready to get started? Check out this resource from the American College of Sports Medicine, for a simple set of flexibility exercises you can perform in the comfort of your own home.