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Stretching Path to improved health

Think about waking up in the morning. Most likely, one of the first things you do without even thinking about it is stretch. Stretching is instinctive, meaning that your body already is leading you to do it. While this type of morning stretching is a great way to get up and going, focusing on more targeted stretching during the day will have the greatest benefit on muscles and joints.

Workout stretching

Even though it is best to do deep stretching post-workout, your warmup can also include elements that have built-in stretches. This is often called dynamic stretching or even dynamic warmup. Examples of incorporating stretching into your warmup include performing lunges, doing high kicks, pushups, jump squats — almost any heart-boosting activity that engages the same muscles you are about to use in your sports activity or workout.

Post workout, your stretching should be even more purposeful. It is important that you stretch to reduce tension so that your muscles can return to a relaxed state. While static stretching (stretching muscles without warming up in an effort to loosen them) before a sporting activity has been shown to decrease muscle strength and power, after workout is a good time for this type of stretching. Your body already being warm from exercise will help lengthen that muscle tissue. It probably won’t prevent soreness, though.

Stretching at work

If you find yourself getting sleepy at work or school or losing concentration, it’s time to stretch. Stretching at work can guard against repetitive-motion injuries that are caused by deskwork. It can boost energy, as well.

You can begin with some simple overhead-arm stretches, but don’t stop there. Do stretches that engage your upper and lower back, your neck, your legs, and even your wrists and ankles. Don’t be embarrassed to stand up and even do a few squats. In fact, standing instead of sitting is a great way to break up your day and get your circulation flowing, so do it whenever you can.

Stretching when you are pregnant

Another important time to keep stretching is when you are pregnant. Stretching can keep you feeling your best. It can help prepare your body by lengthening muscles, which can help offset the growing stress on joints. Loose, flexible muscles also help make you comfortable as you carry extra weight.

Pregnant women should target upper and lower back muscles, leg muscles, and their chest and hips with stretches. Just remember to move slowly. Pregnancy relaxes your ligaments and joints and can affect your balance. Also, stop stretching if you are in pain. Always listen to your body.

Stretching for seniors

It’s all about maintaining that flexibility when it comes to stretching for seniors. Flexibility will help with balance, which is another great benefit. Being flexible and balanced promotes safety in day-to-day activities. Research shows that stretching at least 3 times a week for 15 to 20 minutes will improve mobility, but doing it 5 days a week is even better.

Before starting a stretching regimen, be sure to talk to your doctor. This is especially important if you’ve had hip or back surgery or any other major surgery or injury. Your doctor can guide you to some safe ways to stretch your lower body that won’t aggravate any past injuries.

Tips for better stretching

Major muscle groups really benefit from stretching. Focus on shoulders and neck, calves and thighs, hips, and lower back.
Stretch evenly on both sides.
Hold stretches for about 30 seconds.
Remember to breathe. Exhale while going into the stretch; hold the stretch as you inhale.
Don’t bounce while stretching.
Use it or lose it. You have to keep stretching if you want to maintain your flexibility.

Know More About Stretching

Stretching is one of the best ways to keep your muscles healthy. Stretching regularly will help maintain your muscle strength and increase your flexibility. The more flexible you are, the better it is for your joints. Keeping muscles and joints in top condition helps with your day-to-day range of motion and can help guard against injury.

As beneficial as stretching is, there has been a shift in exercise theory regarding how you should stretch and when. For years, experts recommended stretching before you played sports or before you exercised. However, recent research suggests that stretching before a workout does not decrease your chance of injury. Instead, it is more important to do a warmup before exercising.

Do not confuse stretching for warming up. A good warmup will boost your heart rate. It will make your body warm all over because of the increased blood flow and oxygen to your muscles. Specifically, your warmup should make you break a light sweat and target the same muscles you’ll use during your sport or activity. Save your stretching for post-game or post-workout.

While stretching has long been associated with working out, stretching daily or a few times a week as its own activity can boost muscle and joint health. Adding it to your routine does provide a flexibility that decreases the risk of day-to-day injury. Plus, it helps reduce tension, increases efficient muscle movement, and can improve your posture.
Things to consider
No matter your age or condition, there are times when stretching could be a bad thing. For example, lower back injuries can be made worse by certain stretches that target your hamstrings and hip flexors.

If you push it too far or jerk your body, you could injure muscles, ligaments, or nerves just by stretching. Stretching should not be painful. A mild discomfort means you are getting a good stretch. If you feel pain, you should ease up or stop.

Also, know that stretching won’t prevent overuse injury. However, the overall benefits of regular stretching can make you nimble and minimize injury.

When to see a doctor
Before you start any type of exercise or sport, including stretching, you should consult with your doctor. Your doctor can suggest the best way for you to pursue activity that is safe for your body.

If, while stretching, you hear a popping noise paired with sudden pain, you should consult your doctor. If you strain a muscle and it does not respond to RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) after a few days, see your doctor.

In these situations, your doctor will be able to evaluate and grade the type of your injury. Some muscle tears require surgical repair. The grade of strain will guide your recovery time and level of activity as you recover.

Questions for your doctor
What are the best stretches I can do for my body?
Can stretching improve my balance?
Can I stretch without warming up first?
How often do I need to stretch to maintain my flexibility?
Is there a preferred order for stretching muscle groups?
I stretch every day. Why aren’t I as flexible as my friend?
I’m pregnant. What stretches should I be doing, and which should I avoid?
I’m a senior citizen. How much time should I spend stretching each week?

Exercise: How To Get Started

Before beginning an exercise routine, you should talk to your family doctor. This is especially important if you haven’t been active, if you have any health problems, if you’re pregnant, or if you’re an older adult.

Ask your doctor about how much exercise is right for you. A good goal for many people is to work up to exercising 5 times a week for 30 to 60 minutes at a time. If 30 to 60 minutes at a time sounds difficult to fit into a busy schedule, you can split up your physical activity into smaller chunks of time. Try exercising for 10 minutes at a time throughout your day. For example, take the stairs instead of the elevator at work. Or go for a walk during your lunch break. Even if you do not think you have time to exercise, try to find ways to build it into your day. For example, try bodyweight squats white watching TV or walking outside while making phone calls. Remember: Exercise has so many health benefits that any amount is better than none.

Path to improved health
The best type of exercise is one that you will do on a regular basis, so choose activities that you enjoy. Look for activities that increase your heart rate. These activities should also move large muscles (such as the muscles in your legs and arms). Walking is a popular choice and does not require special equipment. All you will need is some appropriate walking shoes. Other good options include swimming, biking, jogging, and dancing.

Exercising with a friend or a family member can make it more fun. Having a partner to encourage you can help you stay on track.

What is strength training?
Most kinds of exercise will help your heart and your other muscles. Strength training is exercise that develops the strength and endurance of large muscle groups. It is also called “resistance training” or “weight training.” Lifting weights is an example of this type of exercise. Exercise machines and free weights can provide strength training. Push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups, and leg squats are also strength-training exercises. Even low-weight dumbbells and body weight movements can be a good place to start for building and maintaining muscle.

These sorts of resistance exercises are essential for our health, and can decrease risk of heart disease, diabetes and osteoporosis.

Your doctor or a trainer at a gym can give you more information about exercising safely with weights or machines. If you have high blood pressure or other health problems, be sure to talk to your family doctor before beginning strength training.

Is There Anything I Should Do Before And After I Exercise?

You should start an exercise session with a warm-up of about 5 to 10 minutes. Start by slowly stretching your muscles, and then gradually increase the intensity of your activity. For example, begin walking slowly and gradually pick up the pace.

After you are finished exercising, cool down for about 5 to 10 minutes. Stretch your muscles and let your heart rate slow down gradually. You can use the same stretching exercises you did during your warm-up period. If you are going to exercise your upper body, be sure to use stretching exercises for your arms, shoulders, chest, and back.

Warm-up and cool-down stretches
When performing any of the stretches described below, keep the following in mind:

Keep your breathing slow and natural. Do not hold your breath.
Move slowly and steadily. Avoid jerky movements to prevent injury.
Do not bounce while stretching. Bouncing can cause muscles to tear.
Only go as far as you feel comfortable. You should listen to your body and back away if you feel any pain.
Arm Stretch – Triceps
Raise your right arm above your head. Bend it until your elbow is pointed toward the ceiling and your hand is behind your head. Grasp your elbow with the left hand and lean gently toward the left. Try not to bend forward during the stretch. Hold for 20 seconds and then relax. Repeat 2 to 3 times on each side.

Arm Stretch – Biceps
Extend your arms behind your back, keeping your elbows straight. If possible, interlock your fingers with your palms facing inward. Slightly lift your arms up and toward the ceiling. Hold for 20 seconds and then relax. Repeat 2 to 3 times.

Mid-back Stretch
Extend your arms in front of your body, keeping your elbows straight. Avoid lifting your shoulders toward your ears. Interlock your fingers if possible, and gently pull forward to feel your shoulder blades stretching. Hold for 20 seconds and then relax. Repeat 2 to 3 times.

Calf Stretch
Face a wall, standing about 2 feet away from it. Keeping your heels flat and your back straight, lean forward slowly and press your hands and forehead to the wall. You should feel stretching in the area above your heels. Hold for 20 seconds and then relax. Repeat 2 to 3 times.

Quad Stretch
Face a wall, standing about 1 foot away from it. Support yourself by placing your right hand against the wall. Raise your right leg behind you and grab your right foot with your left hand. Gently pull your heel up toward your buttock, stretching the muscles in the front of your right leg for 20 seconds, and then relax. Repeat 2 to 3 times with each leg.

Groin Stretch
Squat down and put both hands on the floor in front of you. Stretch your left leg straight out behind you. Keep your right foot flat on the floor, and lean forward with your chest into your right knee. Gradually shift weight back to your left leg, keeping it as straight as possible. Hold for 20 seconds and then relax. Repeat 2 to 3 times with each leg.

Hamstring Stretch
Lie down with your back flat on the floor and both knees bent. Your feet should be flat on the floor, about 6 inches apart. Bend your right knee up to your chest and grab your right thigh with both hands behind your knee. Gradually straighten your right leg, feeling gentle stretching in the back of your leg. Hold for 20 seconds and then relax. Repeat 2 to 3 times with each leg.

How Hard Do I Have To Exercise?

Measuring your heart rate (beats per minute) can tell you how hard your heart is working during an activity. You can check your heart rate by lightly pressing the tips of your first 2 fingers on the inside of your wrist to take your pulse. Count your pulse for 15 seconds and multiply the number of beats by 4. To time the 15 seconds, use the timer function on your smartphone or a watch or clock with a second hand. If you have a smart phone or smart watch, this may be able to measure your heart rate as well.

Most people will get the greatest benefit and lower their risks if they keep their heart rate between 50% and 85% of their maximum heart rate when exercising. To figure out your maximum heart rate, subtract your age (in years) from 220. This number is your maximum heart rate. To figure out your target heart rate range, multiply that number by 0.50 and 0.85.

For example, if you are 40 years of age, subtract 40 from 220 to get your maximum heart rate of 180 beats per minute (220 – 40 = 180). Then, multiply 180 by 0.50 and 0.85 to get your target heart rate range of 90 to 153 beats per minute (180 x 0.50 = 90 and 180 x 0.85 = 153). When you first start an exercise program, aim for the lower end of your target heart rate range. As your exercise program progresses, you can gradually build up to a higher target heart rate.

If you are taking medicine to treat high blood pressure, you have a heart condition, or you are pregnant, talk to your family doctor to find out what your target heart rate should be.

Things to consider
To avoid injuring yourself during exercise, don’t try to do too much too soon. Start with an activity that is fairly easy for you, such as walking. Do it for a few minutes a day, several times a day. Slowly increase the amount of time and the intensity of the activity. For example, increase your walking time and speed over several weeks.

Trying to push yourself too hard in the beginning could cause muscle strain or sprain. When this happens, you’ll have to wait for the injury to heal before continuing your exercise program. This can really sidetrack your health goals.

When to see a doctor
Pay attention to your body. Stop exercising if you feel very out of breath, dizzy, faint, nauseous, or if you feel pain. Talk with your family doctor if you have questions or think you have injured yourself seriously.

Questions to ask your doctor
Am I healthy enough to begin an exercise program?
Are there any exercises I should avoid?
Do I have any health condition that would affect my ability to exercise?
Am I taking a medicine that would interfere with exercise?
How can I build an exercise plan into my lifestyle?