As we age, we lose flexibility, which limits our range of motion and impairs our ability to perform physical activities. Regular stretching as part of an overall fitness program can help you offset these changes.
Healthy range of motion in the joints makes moving your body easier, and regular stretching helps to increase this range of motion. Stretching can improve balance and posture, especially when combined with resistance training. According to the American Council on Exercise, stretching also promotes mental and physical relaxation.
Along with the many known benefits of stretching, there are a few suggested benefits that fail to hold scientific support. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) reports that there is no consistent link between stretching and reducing injuries, reducing lower back pain, or reducing delayed onset muscle soreness (pain or stiffness felt 24-72 hours after strenuous exercise).
Although there are more complex methods, simple static stretches are recommended for individuals seeking general improvements in flexibility. Static stretching involves slowly stretching and lengthening the muscle to a point of tension, holding the stretch, and then relaxing and returning to the starting position. The ACSM suggests several guidelines to gain the greatest benefit from your stretching.
- Adults should aim to stretch all major muscle groups 2 to 3 times per week. Extend into the stretch only to the point of tightness. You should feel slight discomfort, but not pain.
- Hold each stretch for 10 to 30 seconds.
- Perform each stretch 2 to 3 times with the goal of 60 seconds total stretching time for each muscle group.
- Perform static stretches only after your muscles are warm. For example, after your warm up or at the end of your workout.
Making Time for Stretching
Preserving flexibility through stretching is as important to overall fitness as cardiovascular endurance and muscular strength. If you find it difficult to reserve time just for stretching, consider incorporating flexibility exercise into your regular workouts through yoga, Pilates, or martial arts. If you are pressed for time, you may be better off ending your strength training or cardio session 5 minutes early and incorporating a flexibility component. The result will be a more balanced approach to fitness and better overall health as you age.