Why daily stretching should be part of your routine, especially as you age.
When is the last time you had a good stretch? You probably don’t do it often enough. Stretching isn’t only for athletes and fitness buffs, and it shouldn’t be reserved for before and after workouts. The truth is stretching should be a part of a healthy daily routine, just as much as clean eating and good hygiene. The practice offers some pretty great health benefits, especially as we age.
“Stretching helps to maintain range of motion, flexibility, and good posture and decreases the likelihood of injury during athletic activities,” says Adam Cohen, PT, DPT, physical therapist with the Burke Rehabilitation Hospital and manager of Outpatient Rehabilitation Services at White Plains Hospital. “Stretching can even help to improve balance and walking quality.”
To truly experience all the benefits, Cohen recommends stretching at least 10 to 15 minutes a day, starting as soon as you wake up. Stretching first thing in the morning can help decrease stiffness after lying in bed all night. You’ll want to incorporate some stretches throughout the day as well. “If you sit at a desk all day, it’s recommended that you get up every 20 to 30 minutes and do some stretching,” Cohen says.
Naturally, our muscles become stiffer and weaker with age, so it’s important to counteract that as much as possible. “In general, people should stretch more as they age,” Cohen advises. “Muscles work more efficiently when they’re flexible, which increases your functional capacity.” As a result, you’ll be able to do more without feeling tired, he says.
Yoga is also a wonderful practice. “I’ve found that patients who consistently practice yoga exhibit more youthful movement patterns as they age,” Cohen notes. “They haven’t slowed down as much as their peers.”
As always, stretching before and after physical activity is important. Before sports or exercise, dynamic stretches can help warm up the muscles and may include things like lunges or torso twists, depending on the activity ahead. Afterward, slow static stretches will help you cool down and decrease the concentration of lactic acid, which causes soreness.
There are a few rules of thumb to keep in mind, Cohen says. When performing a stretch, be sure not to bounce; just relax and focus on your breathing. Don’t begin any exercise program without consulting a physician first (and yes, stretching is a form of exercise). And if any stretch causes a sharp pain, do not continue it.
Repeat these stretches two times for 30 seconds at least once a day:
Upper Trap Stretch
Retract your head back into a chin tuck. Place one hand behind your back and, using the other hand, gently pull your head to the side.
Posterior Capsule Stretch
Bring one arm across the body and hold with the other hand just above the elbow.
Seated Hamstring Stretch
While seated, rest your heel on the floor with your knee straight and gently lean forward until a stretch is felt behind your knee/thigh.
Child Pose Stretch
Start in a crawl position. Slowly lower your buttocks toward your feet until a stretch is felt along your back and/or buttocks.
Visit our website for more information about Physical and Rehabilitative Therapy at White Plains Hospital.