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Stretch Now to Reap the Benefits in the Future

by Elizabeth Phinney

When stretching feels fabulous and is relaxing, why is it so tough for people to do?

Stretching results in many benefits, and is mandatory for successful aging. The simple principle behind stretching is to re-align the muscle tissue that has just been used and potentially abused during exercise or activity. Using muscles during an exercise or activity involves the constant contraction of muscle tissue for the duration. In order for that tissue to maintain its flexibility, it is of the utmost importance that you stretch it back into its alignment with all the muscle fibers that have been compromised.

Years of not stretching can create a dramatic effect: a client that played tennis in his youth and never stretched afterwards can no longer straighten his knees. This leads to strain on the lower back, a tilted pelvis, shortness in height and a multitude of other problems and pains. Fixing the problem at this stage is not impossible,  but highlights the importance of stretching because the damage done will show up years later and be much more difficult to repair.

Studies have shown that in most cases, stretching before exercise really does not offset injury during exercise itself. In other words, once you warm up for the exercise, you are ready to go. However, it is critical that stretching takes place afterwards—once the exercise is completed—to re-align the tissue. The recommended duration of each static (held in one position without movement) stretch is 20 to 30 seconds. Ballistic stretching, or bouncing stretching, is never advised unless under direct supervision.

When in the middle of a stretch, close your eyes and breathe. Inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth. Breathe deeply. Allow the body to relax into the stretch; muscle tissue is more inclined to let go when relaxed, and long deep breaths help with this. It only takes three to four deep breaths to complete a stretch.

Stretching is not just to follow exercise, though that is typically what it is used for. A full body stretch after a good night’s sleep always feels good. If you are a handicrafter of any sort, such as a needle-pointer or knitter, stretching will help with shoulder, hand and forearm issues. Sitting too long in a car or at a desk gives us the sense that we need to stand up and stretch, which we should do at least every hour or two. And, now-a-days with the over use of cell phones and handheld devices, our necks are getting abused and all the muscles in the back of the neck are getting over-stretched, forcing the head to list farther forward. When we are older, that will become quite a problem, not just for our necks, but for our entire posture.

Keep in mind, as we age, our flexibility makes us more comfortable and more physically adaptable, and will be the key influence in our ability to move. By incorporating stretching into your life now you will reap the benefits for decades to come.

Elizabeth Phinney is a certified fitness trainer and owner of Fitness After Forty Five, located in Little Compton. For more information, visit FitnessAfterFortyFive.com. See ad, page ??.