Stretching: How One Stretch Can Make Your Life Fuller

During this time of the year, it seems everywhere you look people are out, running, cycling, skating, playing tennis, or swimming. Some are in great physical condition and might be training for something specific, while others are simply enjoying the outdoors. In either case, these people have discovered the benefits of movement. 

Many recent studies have shown that active people lead fuller lives. They have more stamina, resist illness, and stay trim. They have more self-confidence, are less depressed, and often, even late in life, are still working energetically on new projects. Additionally, active people tend to have less pain.

Medical research has shown that a great deal of ill health is directly related to lack of physical activity. Awareness of this fact, along with fuller knowledge of health care, is changing lifestyles. The current interest for races, obstacles courses, and sporting leagues is not a fad. We now realize that the only way to prevent the diseases of inactivity is to remain active – not for a month, or a year, but for a lifetime. 

Central to getting and staying active, is stretching. Stretching is not stressful; you don’t need to become a yoga master (or even touch your toes). It’s a peaceful, relaxing, way to keep your muscles supple in preparation for or recovery from physical activity. Stretching is not a competition.

Who needs to stretch?

Simple answer; everyone. It is especially important it you participate in a sport, specifically those which requires repetitive movements (running, cycling, swimming, etc.). Proper stretching before and after activity may even prevent many of the common injuries seen. Office workers (aka. desk jockeys) are actually at a greater risk for a lower back injury than the average gym goer. Taking breaks during the day to stretch the muscles which tighten as a result of extended sitting is just good practice.

When to stretch?

Timing of stretching is tricky. If you are participating in a physical activity, warming up BEFORE stretching is the current recommendation. Lighter stretching can be performed at various times during the day, but usually not in the morning. Immediately after waking your body is naturally stiffer, so stretching during this time should be avoided. Before going to bed is actually a great time to stretch. It facilitates deeper breathing, relaxation and meditation. In reality, stretching can be done at any time of the day. In the morning to help start your day, at work to relieve stress, after sitting or standing for a long time, or at any odd time when you feel stiff.

When you start moving and stretching frequently, you will learn to enjoy it more. Give yourself plenty of time and opportunity to learn what works best for you. Remember, each one of us is unique with our own comfort zones. What works may not work for someone else. If you learn about what your body needs and the limits you may have, you will slowly develop a foundation for physical activity that will last a lifetime. 

NOTE: If you have any recent physical problems or surgery, particularly of the muscles or joints, or if you have been inactive for an extended period of time, please consult a health care professional before starting a stretching or exercise program.

References: “Stretching 20th Anniversary, Revised by Bob Anderson”