Have you ever noticed how often dogs and cats stretch over the course of a day – especially after sleeping? We can all take a lesson from our four-footed friends, since regular stretching is as common as breathing is for them. It sends signals to the brain and body to get the blood flowing. If you’ve ever encountered a person who was so stiff they could barely walk, there’s a good chance they don’t stretch. Sometimes, it’s the simplest things that can make the biggest difference in your comfort level.
In the morning, it can ease muscle stiffness by waking up your body with a series of simple arm, shoulder and chest extensions before starting your day. Stretching increases the range of motion in your joints as well as blood flow to muscle areas.
Some of the biggest workout mistakes include forgetting to stretch and warm up prior to and after exercising. The practice actually lengthens muscles to increase muscle flexibility and is a must during physical therapy and rehabilitation. It protects the joints by warming the body up and decreasing the risk of exercise-related injury.
It’s just as important to stretch your muscles back to their resting length after each workout. Exercising your muscles with resistance results in stronger – and temporarily shorter muscles. Shortened muscle fibers are more easily injured, so make sure to stretch properly after exercising when your muscles are still warm to minimize the soreness of post-workout muscles caused by microscopic muscle tears. A warm bath or shower will also suffice to warm you up, if you prefer.
Stretching should never cause pain. Discover the pain threshold and kick it down a few notches before holding the stretch. Adjust your breathing rhythms to sync up with each movement to maximize their benefits, and never hold your breath when stretching. Check your range of motion on both sides of your body to ensure they are equal. Proper hydration will maximize the benefits of stretching.
By the way, do you know how much water should you drink? Experts suggest at least eight- 8 ounce servings of water every day, or about .236 milliliters. That estimate is based on an average weight of 150 pounds and average body temperatures within your environment. Others suggest that there is no set requirement of water per day. You should always reach for water first when you are thirsty, as any added ingredients will dilute the hydration benefits of pure H2O. Verify that your urine is either white or slightly yellow as an indication that you are properly hydrated. Extremely dark urine can indicate dehydration or other possible health issues. Every individual has different water consumption requirements and it is difficult to apply a general rule. To stay hydrated, include at least 8 ounces of water with your stretching routine, and make sure you get your daily quota.
There are certain conditions which are not conducive to stretching, including fractured bones and muscle and joint strains, as extending weakened muscles can result in further injury or impair the healing process. Check with your doctor first if you are experiencing any of these symptoms.
If the back of your shoulder is tight, you may be prone to rotator cuff problems, common with golf, tennis and racquetball. Elongating the muscles in your upper back can promote good posture and ease problems associated with these types of activities.
The Mayo Clinic offers an easy-to-follow stretching exercise slide show to guide you through the ten basic stretches that should be a regular part of your exercise routine.
Try doing towel stretches or using a belt to isolate stretching exercises for your hamstrings, back muscles, shoulders and your quadriceps muscle groups. Quadriceps maintain alignment of the kneecap and the front of your shin. Regular stretching of this muscle group will relieve tightness and help avoid kneecap dislocations.
The benefits of stretching are even greater for seniors, since it can actually reduce the wear-and-tear on aging and settling joints that experience friction. It also activates fluids in your joints, lengthens the individual muscle fibers, helps to remove waste products, and reduces muscle soreness. Flexibility is essential to maintain good health; without flexibility, a cycle of pain, stiffness and muscle loss will remain and invite unwanted toxins to settle into inactive joints and muscles. The simple habit of regular stretching will maintain the flexibility your body needs to ensure good overall health and increase longevity, and it’s something you can begin to do immediatel