Whether you’re a professional or amateur athlete who participates regularly in sports or “just an average person” looking to stay active and fit, stretching offers some pretty significant benefits for your health. Often overlooked by men and women trying to squeeze regular exercise into already busy schedules, stretching can help you by:
- Increasing your flexibility and joint range of motion: Daily tasks become less tiring which means you feel more energized; those little aches and pains that go along with bending, reaching and other tasks diminish as your joints become stronger and more flexible.
- Improving your circulation: Stretching increases blood flow so your muscles receive more oxygen and nutrients, which helps them stay healthy.
- Relieving stress: Stretching helps relax muscles and increases the production of the body’s natural endorphins, or “feel good hormones.”
- Improving coordination: A stronger, more flexible body improves balance and movement, and that means you’re less likely to experience falls – an especially important consideration as you age.
- Improving posture: Keeping your muscles fit and flexible helps you sit and stand straighter and reduces stress on muscles and joints.
- Improving performance: Pretty much no matter what sport or activity you enjoy, stretching can help you do it better and more comfortably – and it can also help you avoid the aches and pains typical after a prolonged workout.
- Avoiding injury: By improving flexibility and increasing blood flow to your muscles, stretching before and after exercise helps ensure you avoid debilitating injuries.
Better still: Stretching doesn’t discriminate; it’s easy and simple for people of all ages and all fitness levels. You can tailor your stretching routine to suit your own needs, based on the activities you’re involved in or the fitness goals you want to satisfy. Even simple stretches like stretching your arms over your legs or reaching down to your toes can help improve flexibility.
Like any other exercise, there’s a “right” way to stretch to maximize benefits while avoiding injury. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons offers the following guidelines for successful stretching:
- Warm up with some mild aerobics before stretching to avoid pain or injury that can occur by stretching “cold” muscles.
- Breathe normally while stretching and stretch slowly and gently, allowing muscles to ease into the stretch.
- Don’t bounce! Bouncing while stretching can cause muscles to become overextended, resulting in injury.
- If you feel sharp pain, avoid stretching that muscle for awhile and then try stretching more gently; if pain persists, let your doctor know so he or she can check for possible injury.
With 2014 now underway, losing weight is on many’s people’s minds. Unfortunately, a lot of their goals are unrealistic, leading to failure within just a few weeks. While many of the exercise crazes revolve around cardio workouts, that’s just one aspect of keeping your body healthy through fitness. Rather than setting yourself up for failure with overambitious resolutions for the New Year, focus on the smaller goals and mark your improvement. And for those who are already deeply immersed in an exercise routine, consider stretching to improve your workout. Don’t underestimate the benefits of stretching – and stretching the right way.
Advanced Orthopedics is a New Jersey practice specializing in orthopedic surgery and sports injury care with offices in Freehold, Lake Como, Monroe and Marlboro.