It’s no secret that as you age, your body becomes less flexible. Your muscles aren’t quite as supple and your joints are little stiffer than when you were younger. As a result, getting regular, heart-protecting exercise may be more challenging.
That’s why stretching — the deliberate lengthening of muscles to increase flexibility and range of motion — can be especially helpful after middle age. Yet many people are confused about the different stretching techniques and the best time to do them, says sports medicine physician Dr. Adam Tenforde, assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Harvard Medical School.
Take, for instance, the oft-heard advice about stretching before a workout. “In studies of athletes, there is no good evidence that stretching prevents injuries,” says Dr. Tenforde. In fact, doing static stretches (in which you adopt and hold a position) when your muscles aren’t warmed up may even cause an injury. If you haven’t been moving around much and then reach down to touch your toes, you could pull a hamstring (a muscle in the back of the thigh) because the muscle isn’t receiving a generous supply of blood and is therefore more vulnerable to a small tear, he explains.
On the other hand, dynamic stretching — in which you move gently to stretch your muscles and loosen your joints — is a better choice before your workout. Examples include moves such as shallow side lunges (see photo at top of page) or arm sweeps. These moves generally involve multiple muscle groups from different parts of the body.
For moderate-intensity exercises such as brisk walking or swimming laps, simply starting your workout slowly is a perfectly fine warm-up, says Dr. Tenforde. Doing so will get blood flowing to your muscles and tendons and also help prepare your heart and lungs for a higher level of exertion.
Shallow side lunge
Exercise image by Michael Carroll
For this dynamic stretch, alternate side lunges to the right and the left. Hinge forward at the hip and bring both hands to your upper thigh.
The best time to do static stretching is after your workout, when your muscles are nice and warm. The increased blood flow to your muscles helps them elongate, which translates into greater flexibility. Having that greater ease and range of motion will likely encourage you to maintain your exercise routine.
After a brisk walk or jog, your hip or knee might feel a little tight. So it may feel good to do a “floor pretzel,” which stretches your buttocks, hip, and outer thigh (see photo below). For additional examples and information, see the Harvard Medical School Special Health Report Stretching: 35 exercises to improve flexibility and reduce pain(www.health.harvard.edu/str).
Exercise image by Michael Carroll
This floor pretzel is a static stretch that primarily stretches the buttocks, hip, and outer thigh.
How often, how long?
The American College of Sports Medicine advises healthy adults to stretch or do other flexibility exercises (such as yoga or tai chi) that involve all major muscle-tendon groups — neck, shoulders, chest, trunk, lower back, hips, legs, and ankles — at least twice a week.
For best results, spend a total of 60 seconds on each stretching exercise. So, if you can hold a particular stretch for 15 seconds, repeating it three more times would be ideal. If you can hold the stretch for 20 seconds, two more repetitions would do the trick.
Dr. Tenforde, who is also director of Running Medicine for the Spaulding Rehabilitation Network, agrees that doing yoga can be a great way to increase your flexibility. Taking a class will guide you through a series of poses (called asanas) that alternately lengthen and relax the large muscles. Tai chi — an ancient Chinese practice that involves a series of low-impact, flowing movements — is somewhat like dynamic stretching but done in slow motion. Another option is a gentle water aerobics class, as the warm water and lower-gravity environment provide a comfortable venue for active stretching.
Dr. Tenforde is also a fan of foam rollers, which are small cylinders made of compressed foam. Although not technically a type of stretching, foam rolling helps loosen up fascia, the thin sheath of tissue that surrounds muscles. You lie with the roller beneath your legs, back, hip, or any sore spot and roll back and forth. The roller pushes against your body and provides resistance much like a massage.
Below are spiritual recipe for health and wellness: Matthew E. McLaren
Romans 12:2 ESV Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind,that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Philippians 4:8 ESV Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
Isaiah 26:3 ESV You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.
2 Corinthians 10:3-6 ESV For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.
Philippians 4:4-9 ESV Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. …
2 Timothy 1:7 ESV For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
Proverbs 4:23 ESV Keep your heart with all vigilance, forfrom it flow the springs of life.Romans 12:1-2 ESV I appeal to you therefore,brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice,holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect
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