If you’re in the over-40 crowd, you’ve probably started to feel the unwelcome effects of tighter muscles or creaky joints. The golf swing feels a little less fluid, or you don’t have quite as much jump for that jump shot in your basketball game. If you think you’re doomed to hobble with a cane in the near future, think again. There is a super easy solution: stretching. Sure, you hear about it all the time now. Don’t forget to stretch. But what does that really mean? When and how will this make the biggest impact?
Stretching involves lengthening a muscle or tendon. Improving your overall flexibility and range of motion, stretching is important for not only muscular health but joint health, too. As you get older, muscles and their corresponding joints naturally get tighter, so stretching to improve flexibility becomes that much more important. And preserving your elasticity should be a big priority. Flexibility pretty much governs everything you do. Tying your shoes, picking up your kid, putting a fork to your mouth. With good reason, many fitness experts feel that stretching is just as important as any physical exercise you do, especially as you age.
“One of the most consistent pieces of advice that I give to people who work sedentary jobs is to set a timer for every 30-60 minutes and to get in some stretching, walking, or any kind of movement. The human body is very ‘sticky’ and you want to make sure you’re not spending too much time in any one position.”Matt Miller, Orangetheory Fitness TrainerStretching and flexibility also contributes to a healthy spine, a hallmark of youth and vitality. There is an old yogic proverb: you’re only as young as your spine is flexible. Spinal flexibility contributes to better posture, which can help strengthen your lower back. Unfortunately, spinal suppleness really takes a hit the older you get, and these spinal limitations can be an early indicator of disease.
Meghan Covington, a personal trainer and owner of Mind Body Fitness NYC, says that a healthy, flexible spine has more to offer than just good posture.
“Increased lung capacity, prevention of back pain, and better range of motion all come from having a flexible spine,” Covington said.
Stretching is even more important in this lazy day and age, when most people are sitting at work 40-plus hours a week. Orangetheory Fitness trainer Matt Miller says that these desk jobs contribute to dreaded joint and body stiffness.
“One of the most consistent pieces of advice that I give to people who work sedentary jobs is to set a timer for every 30-60 minutes and to get in some stretching, walking, or any kind of movement,” he said. “The human body is very ‘sticky’ and you want to make sure you’re not spending too much time in any one position.”
Stretching the Dynamic Way
So now you’re ready to stretch, and you want to do it correctly. Think reaching down and touching your toes for 30 seconds before you head out for a 5-miler is a good idea? Think again. These static stretches – holding a pose for about 10-30 seconds – have their place, but it’s not before cardio or strength training. Static stretches can leave athletes feeling wobbly or off-balance. One study concluded that these stretches actually inhibited muscle performance before weight training.
To stretch and warm up your muscles before cardio, experts recommend doing dynamic stretching, an active form of stretching using controlled movements. If you want to go for a run, warm up with some light walking. If you want to weight train, start with some reps of a lighter weight before you start your main workout. Windmill your arms or do jumping jacks. There are plenty of gentle ways of warming up muscles without static stretching. But don’t skip this step before working out. It can lead to torn muscles and other awful injuries, but not from lack of static stretches.