We all need to stretch our muscles, whether we live a sedentary lifestyle, or an active one.
For example, sitting for long periods of time causes our muscles to get stiff and weak. If sedentary individuals do not stretch, their bodies may become more vulnerable to muscle pain and tightness. Over time, their muscles will pull on their joints and trigger significant discomfort.
And for those who do exercise, there are several potential effects of not taking the time to stretch correctly after exercise. Muscles and tendons that are not stretched properly after exercise may be more susceptible to stiffness and injury.
Many years ago, I watched my father play his last game of softball. He hit a ground ball to the third baseman. On his run to first base, he pulled a hamstring, causing him to leave the game. Afterwards, he decided to hang up his glove, bat, and ball for the last time. I have always wondered what would have happened if dad had a history of stretching, or decided to begin stretching after his hamstring healed. Would he have been able to continue playing?
The textbook, Integrative Medicine by David Rakel, MD provides a chart relating to FLEXIBILITY:
For Disease Prevention: “Maintain a range of motion by bending and stretching in daily activities.”
For Basic Health: “Perform 2-4 limitation-specific stretches AFTER activity, 1 repetition; hold about 20-30 seconds.”
For Enhanced Fitness: “Perform 6-10 whole-body stretches AFTER activity and BEFORE competition, 1-2 repetitions.”
For Performance-Level Fitness: “Add yoga, Pilates work, and/or facilitated stretches with a partner.”
I have had experience with Vinyasa Yoga (one form of yoga). I found this style of yoga to be quite challenging (and beneficial) as it helps improve physical strength, mental strength, and deep breathing. We would hold certain poses for short periods of time. During this time, muscles would get tired. To get through it, I would focus my attention on my breathing. And as a result, my mind would become free of thought for the remainder of class, and for an hour or two afterwards. I highly recommend any form of yoga as one method to explore stretching.
Another aspect that certain types of yoga provides is the practice of balance. For example, some poses require standing on one leg.
Another quote from the textbook states, “Balance and agility are the most often overlooked components of fitness, yet poor balance and its associated risk of falling are potentially the greatest health concerns for many older adults.”
The goal of stretching is to promote greater range of motion. Stretching provides improved neuromusculoskeletal function, creating less pain and more motion. It is important to stretch slowly, gently, and to the point of tension, while taking deep breathes.
Paying attention to how our muscles feel on a daily basis may help identify the specific muscles that need extra stretching at that moment.
YouTube is a great place to find stretching and yoga videos for any level of flexibility, and for any muscle group that needs attention.
What is one small step you can implement to improve your flexibility?