As you age, your muscles tighten and range of motion in the joints can be minimized. 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 the top shelf can become difficult. A regular stretching program can help lengthen your muscles and make daily living activities easier.
Once you become pregnant, tremendous changes happen to your body to allow for the growth and birth of your child. This becomes possible through postural changes that are made easier by increased hormones that allow your ligaments to loosen and stretch. As your body's posture changes, some muscles will tighten and others will loosen. This causes a great need for flexibility exercises for the tightening muscles, which can help to prevent aches and pains caused by these changes.
Everyone can learn to stretch, regardless of age or natural flexibility. Stretching should be a part of your daily routine, whether you exercise or not. There are simple stretches you can do while watching TV, on the computer, or getting ready for bed. If you are doing strength training exercises, stretch in between sets.
It does not have to involve a huge time commitment, but stretching can end up giving you huge results! Here are just a few of the benefits you can expect from a regular stretching program:
- Reduced muscle tension
- Injury prevention
- Increased range of movement in the joints
- Enhanced muscular coordination
- Increased circulation of the blood to various parts of the body
- Increased energy levels (resulting from increased circulation)
According to researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, walking and stretching both reduce the risk of pre-eclampsia, a pregancy condition that results in dangerously high blood pressure.
Stretching comes naturally to all of us. You might notice that if you have been sitting in a particular position for a long time, you stretch unconsciously. It feels good! In addition to that good feeling, a consistent stretching program will produce large gains in flexibility and joint movement. Be kind to your muscles and they will be kind to you!
Stretching can be highly beneficial if done properly. If done improperly, it can cause serious damage. Here are some helpful tips to ensure you are stretching safely and preventing injury:
- Always warm up before doing any stretching exercises. Stretching a cold muscle increases the risk of pulls or tears. Think of your muscles like you would a rubber band. It's easy to stretch a warm rubber band, but if you try to stretch a cold one, you risk cracking or breaking it. Don't treat your muscles like a cold rubber band!
- Stretching should never cause pain, especially in the joints. If you experience pain, you are probably stretching too far. Stretch to the point of mild discomfort or a mild pulling sensation but not pain.
- Never bounce into a stretch. This can cause your muscles to tighten, increasing your risk of injury. Stretch in a slow, steady motion.
- Do not lock your joints when you stretch. For example, your arms and legs should be straight (or slightly bent) when you stretch them, but the elbows and knees should not be locked. This puts additional and unnecessary stress on the joints.
- Never hold your breath while stretching. Try to breathe normally, in through the nose and out through the mouth. This will make your stretching a more relaxing experience.
- Take your time. The long-sustained, mild stretch reduces unwanted muscle tension and tightness.
- Do not compare yourself with others. Everyone has different degrees of flexibility. Comparisons may lead to overstretching.
- If you have had a hip replacement, do not cross your legs or bend your hips past a 90-degree angle during any of your stretching exercises.
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