Stretch it! The benefits of stretching as part of your exercise routine
As you age, your muscles tighten and range of motion in the joints can be minimised. This can put a damper on active lifestyles and even hinder day-to-day, normal motions.
Tasks that used to be simple, such as zipping up a dress or reaching for a can off of the top shelf, now become extremely difficult. A regular stretching programme can help lengthen your muscles and make daily living activities easier.
Everyone can learn to stretch, regardless of age or flexibility. Stretching should be a part of your daily routine, whether you exercise or not. We have included some useful tips below to help you prepare more effectively for your exercise sessions, and how beneficial stretching can be even if you don’t get around to doing much exercise! When done properly, stretching can do more than just increase flexibility, and the benefits include:
enhanced physical fitness
enhanced ability to learn and perform skilled movements
increased mental and physical relaxation
enhanced development of body awareness
reduced risk of injury to joints, muscles, and tendons
reduced muscular soreness and tension
increased suppleness due to stimulation of the production of chemicals which lubricate connective tissues
Unfortunately, even those who stretch do not always stretch properly and hence do not reap some or all of the benefits of stretching. Some of the most common mistakes made when stretching are:
inadequate rest between workouts
performing the wrong exercises
performing exercises in the wrong (or sub-optimal) sequence
Here are some tips when preparing for your exercise sessions: Warm Up and Cool Down: Stretching is important during your warm-up because it increases blood flow to the muscles.
But stretching during your cool-down may be even more important. Stretching helps to remove lactic acid from the muscle; this reduces muscle soreness and promotes better flexibility.
While stretching can promote flexibility, stretching too far can actually damage the muscles —particularly if you’re recovering from an injury. A healthy muscle can elongate up to 1.6 times its length but generally doesn’t respond well to that much stretching.
By overstretching, you create an automatic muscle spindle reflex that actually will cause the muscle to recoil to protect itself from tearing and injury, causing further tightness in the muscle. Also, don’t bounce while stretching; holding your stretch in a static position works best.
Combine Stretching & Strengthening
A good time to do your stretching exercises is while resting between lifts during your strength training. Strength training will not decrease your flexibility as long as you do it properly and perform your lifts through their full range of motion. Use MICE Rather Than RICE: Health professionals frequently promote RICE as one way of treating an injury: Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. But it’s better to promote MICE: Move it!!
This is because immobilizing a muscle can lead to decreased blood flow and muscle wastage. If you stretch properly while recovering from an injury, you can speed that recovery.
It’s believed that ageing is not the only factor that causes us to lose flexibility, its lack of exercise. Studies show that a sedentary lifestyle is a bigger factor in decreasing flexibility than ageing. If you stay active aerobically and use stretching to maintain your flexibility, you will look and feel younger because of the way you move.