Benefits of stretching go beyond mobility

Posted

Stretching on a regular basis keeps the muscles strong and flexible, allowing for maximum range of motion of a particular joint. Stretching helps to protect our mobility as well as independence and reduces risk for injuries and falls. Without stretching the muscles can shorten, making everything tight. This makes them weak, which increases the risk for joint pain and muscle damage.

With more than 600 muscles in the human body, it can be overwhelming to think you have to stretch all of them daily. Experts state that you don't need to stretch every single muscle you have, just focus on the areas that are critical for mobility such as the calves, hamstrings, hip flexors, quadriceps, lower back, shoulders, forearms, wrists and neck.

Flexibility training isn't just for athletes, it is for everyone. As we age, joint movement becomes stiff, and we are less flexible. Muscles become tighter, cartilage becomes thinner, and ligaments also tend to shorten and lose some flexibility, making joints feel stiff. Additionally, inactivity can reduce overall joint mobility. In fact, researchers claim that at least half of age-related bone, muscle and joint issues are related to lack of use.

Over time as muscles and tendons become chronically tense and tight, we develop poor posture and improper body mechanics. The repetitive movement patterns we do every day train the body to perform them under a shortened range of motion. Stretching can improve these postural imbalances and may assist in the relief of chronic discomfort that is related to these imbalances.

The good news is that it is never too late to start stretching, and it is possible to improve your flexibility and range of motion even as you get older. In addition to improving flexibility and range of motion, fitness experts point out other benefits of stretching: decreased stress, improved health, increased blood flow and circulation.

The American Council on Exercise recommends stretching a minimum of three days a week. Be sure to warm up your muscles and joints with a 10-minute walk or bike ride before you stretch. This increases blood flow, which allows the muscles and tendons to be more pliable. Stretching before any type of activity can actually cause more damage because the muscle fibers are cold and tight.

Hold each stretch and the point of tension, not pain, for a minimum of 30 seconds. Repeat each stretch for three to five times, and make sure to stretch the muscles on both sides of your body. As you gain more flexibility, your range of motion will improve. You may even experience greater performance and feel stronger because the increased range of motion allows your muscles to work more efficiently.

Missy Corrigan is executive of community health for Sumter Family YMCA. She can be reached at mcorrigan@ymcasumter.org or (803) 773-1404.