To Your Health
September, 2007 (Vol. 01, Issue 09)
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Why: The American Council on Exercise provides these top 10 reasons people should take time to stretch before and after a workout:

1   To decrease muscle stiffness and increase range of motion, which may slow the degeneration of the joints.

2   To reduce the risk of injury. By increasing your range of motion and flexibility, you may decrease muscle resistance during various physical activities.

3   To reduce post-exercise strain and soreness. A hard workout often has a shortening and tightening effect on the muscles, which can be relieved by stretching.

4   To improve posture. By stretching the upper-body and back muscles, you improve the alignment of your back, reduce discomfort and improve your posture.

5   To reduce the risk of low back pain. By increasing flexibility in the hamstrings, hip flexors and the muscles attached to the pelvis, you can relieve stress on the lumbar spine, which in turn can reduce the risk of low back pain.

6   To allow the muscles to relax. Chronically tense muscles tend to cut off their own circulation, resulting in a lack of oxygen and essential nutrients.

7   To improve physical performance. Stretching promotes flexibility, and a flexible joint requires less energy to move through a wider range of motion, thereby maximizing performance.

8   To prepare the body for the strain of exercise. Stretching loosens the muscles and builds resistance to the impact they are about to undergo.

9   To promote circulation. Your muscles depend on blood flow for nourishment and to flush out waste products. Stretching increases blood supply and improves the circulation of blood throughout the entire body.

10   To help relieve stress. One of the biggest symptoms of stress is tension and tightness in the neck and back, which can be reduced through stretching.

How: Each stretch should last about 30 seconds. Studies of the long-term effects of stretching on range of motion have shown that people who stretch for 30 seconds per muscle each day increase their range of motion significantly more than those who stretch 15 seconds per muscle each day. In general, there is little benefit to stretches that last as long as 60 seconds.

A word of caution: Bouncing while you stretch can cause microtears (small tears that result in scar tissue) in the muscle, which increases the likelihood of pain. Most experts believe stretching should not be a painful experience - if you're in pain, you've pushed too far. Try to stretch a little further with each stretch, but only to the point of mild tension. Your movements and your breathing should be slow, rhythmic and controlled.