Most of you know that I am a huge fan of stretching. Sometimes we stretch your muscles while we are in session or perhaps you have received hand outs from me, followed by some discussion, but why is stretching your body so important?
Stretching your body is a major part of any physical exercise, but we don't have to associate it with exercise alone. It can also be beneficial if you are sedentary. Standing up and moving around after sitting for long periods returns the blood flow to stiff arms and legs and keeps you mentally alert. Proper stretching is thought to help avoid injury by increasing your flexibility, which can also improve performance in physical activity.
Stretching the body offers other benefits in addition to keeping the body flexible to avoid injury, according to author and physical therapist Dr. Suzanne Martin. Proper stretching helps lengthen the muscles, which leads to better posture. Stretching the muscles and tendons also improves circulation of water and nutrients throughout the body, which slows the aging process. It can also reduce stress and promote relaxation. Stretching your muscles can help avoid muscle spasms, and help your joints move through their full range of motion. Stretching the neck muscles can also help reduce headaches.
Let's say, for example, that your Achilles tendon is tight and lacks flexibility. If you do a lot of hill walking, your foot may not move through its full range of motion. Over time, this can increase your risk of tendinitis or tendinopathy in your Achilles tendon. Stretching your Achilles tendon, though, may improve the range of motion in your ankle. This, in turn, can decrease the risk of microtrauma to your tendon that can lead to overload and injury.
Stretching needs to be done properly to be effective. Following some basic advice can help avoid losing any possible benefits. Warm up the muscles before stretching by walking, jogging or biking for 10 minutes. Don't stretch cold muscles. Focus on the muscles that need stretching the most -- neck, shoulders, calves, thighs, lower back and hips. Stretch both sides evenly. For example, stretch both the left and right shoulder. Avoid bouncing when you are stretching; aim for a slow, gradual stretch. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds and do three to four stretches for each muscle, avoiding stretching to the point of pain. Stretch regularly, at least twice a week. If you stop stretching, your muscles will stiffen and shorten over time.
Stretching is beneficial, but there may be times when you need to be very careful or avoid stretching altogether. If you are participating in a very intense activity, such as a sprint, it's best to wait until after you
are finished to stretch. Stretching an injured muscle or tendon can cause further damage. Some chronic health conditions are exacerbated by stretching. Consult a doctor if you have an injury or health condition that may cause problems when stretching. A doctor can advise you of your limitations and will make recommendations for your condition.
In 30 days you will see noticible improvement to your flexibility and you may come to enjoy the ritual of stretching before — or better yet, after — hitting the trail, ballet floor or soccer field.
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Angelique is a professional massage therapist, specializing in therapeutic bodywork that breaks through physical injuries, chronic muscular problems and joint pain. Angelique will use her professional bodywork techniques to help you toward physical fitness, mental and emotional well-being, relief from chronic pain, and adjustment to lifestyle changes.