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Health Matters: The lowdown on stretching

“Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape.” ~ Michael McGriffy, M.D.

Out of all the components of a fitness program, stretching is the one most often put on the backburner. We might not think it’s as important as going for a walk or lifting weights, but the truth is – it is!

You should make stretching a part of your daily life for a multitude of reasons:

  1. To improve flexibility of muscles and connective tissues
  2. To help prevent injuries such as muscle strains
  3. To improve body awareness and posture
  4. To improve balance and potentially prevent falls
  5. To help in recovery of muscles after working out

While stretching is generally safe, it’s always a good idea to check in with your health care practitioner if you: have a condition that causes pain, have undergone recent surgery or have an existing medical condition that could be made worse with stretching (e.g. Ehler-Danlos Syndrome).

Stretching is easy to learn, however, there is a right way and a wrong way to stretch. Here are some tips:

  • DO stretch to the point where you feel tension, not pain!
  • DON’T bounce up and down when stretching as this can cause microtears in the muscle
  • DO stretch out all the major muscle groups in your body (front and back thighs, buttocks, chest, back, calves)
  • DON’T stretch cold! Do light activity (e.g. marching on the spot, arm circles, torso twists etc.) to get the muscles warmed up
  • DO hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds, or until the muscle group relaxes
  • DON’T hold your breath! Remember to breathe when you stretch
  • DO stretch both sides of your body evenly
  • DO stretch by how you feel and not by how far you can go

If you stretch correctly and regularly, you will find that movement becomes easier. Remember, it takes time to loosen up chronically tight muscles, so stick with it!