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Serious About Stretching

I think the world would be a better place if people got serious about stretching. One of the unfortunate side effects of our modern, 21st century world is an increase in body breakdowns due to a sedentary lifestyle. This includes weight gain (and its various complications), joint problems, and muscle shortening. When muscles shorten, we feel stiff, lose full range of motion, and become much more prone to injury. Generally speaking, we feel old. Remember the first time you got down on the floor to play with your kids or grand kids and realized it was much harder to get back up than it used to be? Exactly.

Stretching is an important component of a comprehensive fitness program because it increases flexibility. Flexibility is crucial, not only for preventing injury, but also in allowing your muscles to perform their best without being compromised. And as an added bonus, it increases blood flow, decreases stress levels, and just feels good. So let’s get started!

Before stretching, it’s a good idea to warm up for 1-5 minutes with any gentle activity (walking is a perfect choice); “cold” muscles are much harder to stretch than “warm” muscles. Ease into each stretch, going only to the point of gentle tightness, never pain. If it hurts, you’ve pushed yourself too far. Beginners should hold each stretch for 15-30 seconds to achieve full benefits, but more advanced stretchers may want to hold for 60 seconds or longer. Always remain in control of your stretching; never allow yourself to get into a position where you feel you might get hurt or may be unable to get up.

One of the wonderful qualities of stretching exercises is that you can perform them every day, many times during the day. It’s good to stretch before and after a workout (particularly if the exercise was new or especially challenging). Additionally, stretching before bed can help relax the body and quiet the mind, making it easier to sleep.

For more information on specific stretches, see your physical therapist or pick up the book Stretching by Bob Anderson and Jean Anderson (by Shelter Publications). If there were a stretching bible, this would be it. I own several copies myself!

If you want to combat those “getting old” feelings, it’s time to get serious about stretching. The grand kids will enjoy playing with the new, more flexible you. Keep moving, my friends!

– Alan

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