It happens all the time. An 80-year-old driving a 65-year-old friend to the doctor or grocery store. Why does the 80-year-old still have the flexibility and strength to help his or her much younger friend? While there is no simple answer and genetics certainly play a large role, the fact is you have a much greater chance of being the 80-year-old if you exercise regularly, maintain your strength through weight or resistance band training, and diligently practice balance and flexibility throughout your life. Stretching plays a vital role in helping you maintain the flexibility, balance and movement you need to avoid injury, stay mobile and maintain an active lifestyle throughout your life.
Age-related degeneration of our ability to live life largely as we always have can be virtually eliminated with regular stretching, balance and flexibility exercises done at least three times a week. While many people may see stretching as just an afterthought to their “real workout,” research shows that stretching, flexibility, balance and movement can all be maintained as we age if we make it a priority to practice regular stretching, flexibility and balance exercises.
There are many benefits to stretching. Stretching not only improves flexibility and joint range of motion, it can also improve your performance in physical activities, decrease your risk of accidental injuries, and improve blood flow to your muscles.
Flexibility exercises should be added to your workout at least two or three times a week. Make sure that when stretching, all your major muscle groups are being actively worked. Stretching exercises should mobilize all the major muscle and tendon groups, including lower body, core and upper body.
Lower body strength and flexibility degeneration happens earlier than the upper body. So for legs, it is important to work the quadriceps, ham strings and calf muscle. Yoga, Pilates and Tai chi all have a stretching component.
There are five types of stretching: Passive, ballistic, dynamic, static and PNF stretching Passive stretching is usually performed with a partner or medical professional, such as a physical therapist. Ballistic stretching is a somewhat bouncy approach to stretching a target muscle to its endpoint of stretch. This type of stretching can cause injury if performed in a jerking, wobbly manner. That is why it is one of the least recommended forms of stretching. Dynamic stretching uses active movements that mimic sports-specific or movement-specific action. “For instance, a volleyball player might do some shoulder flexion-extension actions prior to starting play.Thus the rhythmic nature of a controlled dynamic stretch has a functional application due to its similarity to the primary movement task..” Static, or ‘hold’ stretching is used most often, particularly after injury, and is considered the most safe and effective form of stretching. “With this technique, a muscle or muscle group is gradually stretched to the point of limitation,” according to a study by Len Kravitz, an exercise expert and prolific writer on the subject of exercise. PNF stretching is a technique that was developed for those with catastrophic injury, paralysis or muscular diseases.
Stretching is so important because it really is a case of use it or lose it. In one study, based on a population of 1,000 elderly men and women, flexibility in some joints had decreased by 50 percent based on chronological age. In another study of women 20 to 70 years old, it was revealed that by age 70 women had lost 30 percent of their sit and reach ability.
The important thing to remember is that an exercise program can be started at any age. Be sure to check with your doctor before starting or expanding any exercise program.
There are some dos and don’ts when stretching:
- Relax as you stretch
- Stretch only until mild tension is felt
- Hold a stretch for 5 to 15 seconds
- Keep movements fluid
- Breathe deeply and slowly
- Ease off a particular stretch if you feel pain/discomfort
- Bounce or wobble while stretching
- Focus on stress-inducing thoughts
- Hold your breath
- Strain or push to the point of pain
There’s no doubt that life takes a toll on our bodies. Anything used for 20, 30 or 50 years will show some wear and tear. The thing is, you have a choice when it comes to keeping your body up and running for 70, 80, or even 90 years. But for you to maintain your movement/mobility, balance and flexibility, you must stretch. Regularly.
For more tips on proper stretching designed for your body and individual needs, check out Argus resources and/or visit the sites below:
Ramona Fortanbary is a Northern Virginia-based freelance writer and editor. Ramona has served as a writer in many industries. She has been a newspaper editor, corporate communications manager and public affairs specialist and senior writer-editor for the U.S. government. Ramona has studied at Chapman and Harvard universities. Her interests include fitness, reading, traveling and volunteer work. Ramona currently serves on the board of Heart Marks Art Therapy, a 501(c)(3) organization offering free art therapy sessions to at risk segments of our society.
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