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Benefits of Stretching


QUESTION:

Everybody tells me that stretching is really important, but I usually skip it to save time.  Realistically, how important is stretching?

ANSWER:

Omitting stretching when you're short on time would rob you of the benefits of increased flexibility.  Flexibility exercises can improve range of motion around joints and enhance muscular performance.

As we age, we lose tendon flexibility, which in turn limits motion.  Eventually, this limited range of motion impairs our ability to perform exercise and day-to-day activities.  Even if the decline in flexibility associated with age is in your distant future, you may want to take note of the proven benefit associated with increased flexibility and enhanced performance.

Your stretching routine should address all of the major muscle/tendon groups.  Each stretching exercise should be held for 10-30 seconds and be performed 1-4 times.  Although there are more complex methods of stretching involving a partner, simple static stretches are recommended for individuals seeking a general flexibility program.  This type of flexibility exercise involves slowly stretching the given muscle to a point of tension (not pain), holding the stretch, and then relaxing and returning to resting length.  When performing stretching exercises, try to imagine that you are lengthening away from the center of the body, increasing the space within the body joints — not crunching or compressing the joints down.  This routine should be performed 2-3 times per week.  Seek advice from an exercise specialist if you have questions on specific exercises.

I urge you to consider the benefits of stretching before you skimp on this component of your fitness program.  In the long run, if you are pressed for time, you're better off ending your strength training or cardiorespiratory session 5 minutes early and incorporating a flexibility component into your regimen.  The result will be a more balanced approach to fitness and better overall health as you age.

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Our expert, Dr. Sharon E. Griffin, holds a B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. in the areas of exercise science/physiology.  She also holds a second M.S. degree in Nutrition and is a licensed nutritionist and an ACSM certified health and fitness instructor.

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