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.

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 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.