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Important Information About Stretching

Important Information About Stretching

Whenever people talk about weight loss, health, and fitness, the talk tends to center on exercise. And there’s good reason for that; obviously, physical activity is essential to getting in shape and staying there. Stretching, though, is so often relegated to a quick mention—something like, “Also, remember to stretch before and after your workout.”

Stretching deserves more than that. It may not burn calories, bulk up your muscle mass, or get your heart pumping, but it definitely contributes to your general health, wellness, and fitness in a variety of ways. So let’s talk some more about it.

Benefits of Stretching

Here’s a quick look at just some of the ways stretching to keep your muscles loose and limber helps you feel—and be—fitter and healthier. Stretching:

  • Reduces the risk of soreness, cramps, pulls, tears, and other exercise-related discomfort and injuries
  • Minimizes recuperation time after a strenuous workout
  • Increases your flexibility and rang of motion
  • Enhances blood flow and oxygenation to muscles (which itself has many benefits, like promoting cell growth and organ function, reducing strain on the heart, helping normalize blood pressure, and more)
  • Increases energy levels
  • Boosts stamina and performance
  • Contributes to good posture
  • Reduces stress
  • Relieves aches and pains
  • Improves mood and general feeling of wellness
  • Promotes relaxation and better sleep

Stretching Tips

Spend some time learning safe and effective stretching techniques. Talk to your doctor, trainer, or experienced workout buddy, or read up on some reputable health and fitness sites. Here are some important things to keep in mind:

  • Don’t stretch before warming up with some gentle activity like a short walk
  • Don’t stretch first thing in the morning; wait till you’ve been up and moving around a while
  • Stretch before and after a workout or sport performance
  • Stretch before bed and when you’re feeling stressed
  • Hone in on major muscle groups (neck, lower back, hips, thighs, calves)
  • Pay extra attention to the muscles and joints you use most (including at work, not just during workouts)
  • Learn stretches specific to the sport(s) you play
  • Hold stretches for 30 seconds
  • You should feel tension, but not pain; ease up if it hurts
  • Never bounce while stretching
  • Don’t hold your breath while stretching; take deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth
  • Gentle movement-based stretching (think tai chi or yoga) is fantastic for you—body, mind, and soul

A Few Words of Caution

Even though stretching is a low-impact, natural way to improve your health and fitness, that doesn’t mean there are no risks associated with it. Improper technique and being too aggressive can cause injuries, as can stretching “cold” muscles before a warm-up.

If you have any injury or physical health condition, first talk to your doctor about safely stretching. Sometimes, the wrong stretch or the wrong timing can make a problem worse. Also, remember that stretching only reduces the risk of injuries—it doesn’t make you immune to them. Proper exercise techniques, common-sense safety measures, giving muscles adequate time to rest between workouts, and other smart practices are important.

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By

Jason Littleton, MD, also known as America's Energy Doctor, is a board-certified family physician offering concierge healthcare and the author of WellSpring: The Energy Secrets to Do the Good Life. The book's practical, insightful content and his resonant messages about nutrition, fitness, and balance have made Dr. Littleton a highly sought after, high-profile keynote speaker and national media commentator on TV and in print.