One morning, I decided to do something different and tried stretching. I had just watched an infomercial showing women my age, touching their toes and moving gingerly and sprightly as if they were in their 20s. Being the competitive person that I am, I tried to imitate them. I figured that since I have stayed healthy over the years, I would be as nimble as when I was twelve and did plies and jetés in ballet class.
Boy, was I in for a reality check. The lithesome idea of myself was just a memory. I was rusty and wooden. If I was to stretch, I had to learn how to. Too many years of sitting at my desk, staring at my computer, writing memos, answering e-mails, going from meeting to meeting, ordering lunch from my desk without getting up had all left their mark. Here, I was not able to touch my toes or scratch my back.
Luckily, my friend, a professional trainer, insisted that we stretch at the beginning and end of each session. I resisted at first, but I finally gave in. The first few weeks were not easy, but I definitely notice a difference. I am more limber, can touch my toes, scratch my back, and I look forward to my stretches every morning, at midday, and in the evening. It has elongated me, and I have regained my mobility. My back pains are no more. I have turned back the clock. I feel younger!
When we think of staying physically fit, we often focus our attention on the latest exercise trend or some new diet. However, it’s important to realize the benefits that come from something as simple as stretching to help balance our exercise routines. As you probably know, as we age, we lose flexibility, which reduces mobility, and therefore we become more sedentary and accumulate more fat. Stretching helps improve flexibility, and in doing so we can improve our range of motion, decrease the risk of injury, and provide a host of other benefits that contribute to our overall health.
Your body will benefit greatly from stretching, but it takes time to start feeling the positive effects, so it’s important to stretch on a regular basis. Focused stretching can be done anywhere – in a chair, on the subway, or on a break from work – giving us no excuse not to stretch regularly.
One of the biggest mistakes when it comes to stretching is jumping right into it without knowing what you’re doing. Oftentimes people will start stretching too quickly and hurt themselves unintentionally. By keeping a few basics in mind, stretching becomes second nature. Here are a few tips on stretching effectively and safely:
- Warm Up BEFORE Stretching – This might seem counterintuitive since we usually think of stretching as the warm-up before working out, but stretching tight, cold muscles before working out can actually lead to injuries. Don’t worry though; this is easily avoidable! Just warm up by walking or jogging for a few minutes, or, if you are doing a more intense workout, save the stretching until after in order to cool down and elongate those muscles.
- Take Your Time and Breathe – Speeding through stretches doesn’t give your body the chance to absorb the benefits. Hold your stretches for 30 seconds to a minute, and breathe deeply. This will engage the muscles and deepen the stretch. The key to stretching is slow and steady, so give yourself time to complete each stretch and focus on leaning into them slowly as opposed to jerking your body into a shape.
- Stop Before It Hurts and Focus on Staying Balanced – Pain is an indicator that your body isn’t happy. Don’t stretch to the point of pain! You want to feel the stretch and experience some resistance, but you don’t want to go so far as to cause an injury. Listen to your body, and pause when you have reached your limit. And remember, it’s not a competition. Stretching is a process, and it takes time to improve flexibility. Be patient, and instead of forcing a shape, focus on stretching to the same level on both sides of your body. The benefits will follow.
- A Beginners’ Guide – Visit this link for some basic stretching examples to get you started on your journey to increased flexibility and mobility.
Keep these tips in mind. Try light stretching in the middle of your workday. It will increase blood flow, waking you up mentally and physically. Plus, it will help break up the day, and your body will thank you for giving it some much-needed love and attention. Remember that it takes time to increase flexibility and to start feeling the real benefits of stretching, so stick with it.