In addition to losing muscle tone, we become less flexible as we get older. Muscles shorten with time, which leads to an increased risk of pain, cramps, damage, strain, and falling. Without proper stretching, daily activities like tying your shoe can become challenging.
Routine stretching strengthens and loosens muscles while improving flexibility. Long, loose muscles are less likely to experience pain or injury and have a better range of motion. Stretching before any exercise can lessen your chance of injury.
In addition to decreasing your likelihood of injury, stretching relieves post-exercise pains and aches. Stretching decreases muscle stiffness while increasing your range of motion. A higher motion range can slow joint degeneration.
Stretching also promotes blood circulation. A greater blood supply to your muscles, joints, and body means better transportation of nutrients. Stretching is also a workout. Yoga, for example, is a series of poses designed to improve your flexibility and balance. The four types of stretching are:
- Active stretching – Engaging a pose that targets and utilizes a specific muscle or group of muscles, such as sitting on the floor with your legs outstretched and reaching for your toes by bending at your waist
- Passive stretching – Holding a pose that uses gravity or another force to lengthen a specific muscle or group of muscles, such as bending over at the waist while standing and letting gravity use the weight of your torso to stretch your hamstrings
- Dynamic stretching – Active movements that use momentum to gradually lengthen muscles within the range of motion, such as kicking as high as possible
- Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) stretching – a certified therapist moves the patient’s body into poses to stretch and restore muscles; usually performed on a table
Stretching can improve your posture, which leads to fewer muscle aches. Active and passive stretching enhances muscular relaxation and can also help you manage or reduce stress. Enhance the relaxation effects of stretching by incorporating some meditation practices.
Mindful meditation and stretching before bed can help you rest more soundly. Stretching before sleep activates your parasympathetic nervous system – the system that handles your mind and body while unconscious. Your body needs adequate sleep to help it recover from the day.
Each week, you should have at least three to four stretching routines. Researchers recommend stretching every day to improve muscle flexibility and your overall balance. You should also dedicate 10 to 15 minutes to stretch post-workout.
You might be surprised that one of the best exercises for your body and balance is as simple as standing. Find out why you should include balancing exercises in your routine.