Stretching isn’t just something to do before a workout. Instead, it’s something we should all do — every day — and that starts from the moment we wake up.
That’s the message from Catherine Connor, a certified senior exercise instructor at Baptist Health South Florida.
“Flexibility and stretching are important every day,” Connor said. “Even getting out of bed, where we have been in a crunched position for several hours, we need to get up and do a total body stretch. Even the rotation of your neck, side to side — [do] slow and easy movements.”
Connor said inhaling at the start of a stretch and exhaling after is crucial.
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She also recommends stretching during exercise. And that’s especially true for long-distance runners.
“If you feel a little tightness, it’s recommended to take three or four minutes during a run to stretch and then continue,” Connor said. “That way, you won’t have that much tightening.”
Alexyz Milian, a University of Miami Health System physical therapist, said stretching after exercise is the most important thing to do — and yet it’s something that’s often ignored or neglected.
“There’s not a lot of evidence to support the idea that stretching before a workout helps with injury prevention,” said Milian, who works at the Institute for Advanced Pain Management at UHealth. “But exercising after you’re warmed up — that’s when you will get the maximum gain. There is evidence to suggest that stretching after a workout helps give your muscles a wider range of motion.”
Milian said that more than half of the people who come to see him do so because of back pain, and that can be helped by stretching your hamstrings, your gluteus and your calf muscles.
Making one joint looser with stretching takes strain off another joint, and that inter-connectivity will eventually benefit your back.
Milian said there is no evidence that there can be such a thing as “too much” stretching. So, by all means, stretch before and after workouts. Stretch during your workouts, and stretch on days you don’t even train.
In short, stretching should become an automatic part of your physical regimen. And exercise, according to virtually every study, is a key factor in having a longer and healthier life.
In their book Younger Next Year, authors Chris Crowley and Dr. Henry S. Lodge recommend “serious aerobic exercise four times a week for the rest of your life.”
Aerobic exercise is the steady activity that gets your heart rate up and keeps it elevated — think jogging, biking, swimming and rowing.
Connor, who is proud of her age (62) and her fitness level — “you can card me anytime you want” and “exercise does a body good” are a couple of her favorite sayings — outlined three simple types of stretches one can start doing right away:
▪ First, from a standing position, lift your arms straight over your head. Hold each stretch for 10 to 15 seconds, exhale and slowly lower your arms. This is a “total body” stretch.
▪ Second, from a sitting position, lift your legs straight out, knees unbent, and raise your arms up overhead and back. Then, after holding that stretch, bring your arms down and forward, touching your legs as far as you can reach. This works your spine as well as your hamstrings, calves and ankles.
▪ Third, while lying flat on a mat, take your right leg and use your hands to hold it toward your chest. Do the same thing with your left leg and then both legs simultaneously. This works your lower back as well as your hips and groin.
“These basic stretches,” Connor said, “warm up your body and joints so that they will be more prepared for physical activity.”