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How Stretching Makes You Longer… & Stronger

Healthy Living 


It’s so good to stretch yourself, in so many ways. Reaching beyond your comfort zone earns life rewards for you that can’t be measured simply in muscle extensions or physiological data. But those physiological facts are nothing to sneeze at. Without regular stretching – by “regular people,” not just your mid-50’s marathoner – your muscles begin to tighten, which affects your ability to extend them fully.

“If you are a repetitive ‘sitter,’ the glute muscle begins the process of atrophy. This means that the glute muscle begins to degenerate (not in a good way),” says Sandra Hahamian, certified personal trainer. “When your glutes shut down, other muscles and joints in your body become over-stressed and can result in pain in places such as the knees and lower back.”

A practice of good stretching helps loosen and lengthen your muscles, which is really important for maintaining your range of motion, particularly as you age. If your lifestyle is mostly sedentary, your muscles become weak over time, and without stretching them out regularly, they also get shorter. Then one day, when you do decide to exercise, or just perform some type of physical task outside your normal sofa-sitting, you’ll be depending on those muscles to get up and get it done. But if your muscles are no longer accustomed to extending fully, you put yourself at risk for pain, muscle and joint injury, or even falling.

“A lot of people don’t understand that stretching has to happen on a regular basis. It should be daily,” says David Nolan, a physical therapist at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital. Daily stretching helps keep your limbs flexible, long and lean. Your routine doesn’t have to be strenuous, but it does need to be done properly. Don’t do the “early-80s bounce,” and try to hold your stretch for about 30 seconds each time. It’s also a good idea to move around first to get your muscles a little warmed up before you start stretching. This makes the stretch…. well, a “good stretch,” not a stretch of your cold muscles’ weak limitations. Good stretching not only helps protect your muscles, it also helps you get the most from them. If you like to lift weights, you’ll build more muscle by pressing with full muscle extension – not by taxing and tearing cold muscles against the weight.

To begin a good stretching routine, Nolan recommends your local Y. So, do we. See you at the gym!

-Jean Bowick

YMCA of Greater Birmingham, 

Read more healthy information from the YMCA at Click on News/Health

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