How important is stretching? According to a recent Harvard Health study, stretching is essential, especially as you age.
Although it’s common to lose flexibility as you age, stiff and inflexible muscles can lead to shorter muscles in general. When you cause a shortened muscle to become active, you can increase your risk for injury, as well as joint and muscle pain. In order to keep muscles flexible and long, Harvard Health Publications recommends that you stretch them at least three to four times a week (if not daily).
In addition to injury prevention, having more flexible muscles can lead to several other benefits. According to the Mayo Clinic, flexible muscles can:
- Help your joints use their full range of motion
- Encourage stronger athletic performance
- Reduce back and joint pain
- Improve your balance
However, not ALL stretching is beneficial. Harvard Health Publications recommends stretching only when your muscles are WARM. So don’t start your warm up with static stretches (i.e. holding a particular stretch for a long time). If you would like to incorporate stretching into your warm up, try doing dynamic stretches instead. Dynamic stretches incorporate movement. For example, rotate your arms in circles or pull your knees into your chest while you walk.
After your muscles are warm, you can stretch, holding each static stretch for anywhere from 10 to 30 seconds. Trust your body here – you should be able to breathe fluidly while you stretch. If your breath catches, that’s your body telling you to ease up. As a rule – discomfort is ok, pain is not. Lean into discomfort, back away from pain.
Finally, like any change you make to your lifestyle and fitness routine, please check in with a doctor or physical therapist first, and expect change to be gradual.
Looking for some simple, fast, sustainable workouts to add to your new daily practice of stretching? Check out our 7 proven hacks for finally getting your body back in under 10 minutes a day (without a gym!)
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