The overlooked exercise you can do at home – stretching 1 June 2018 Why is stretching important? Have you ever wondered why everyday tasks, such as bending over to put your shoes and socks on has turned into mission impossible? Or reaching up to put something in the top cupboard feels like you have lost an inch in height? It may be because your muscles have become tight and they can no longer move your body through its normal range of motion. The good news is that we can get the length back into your muscles through stretching. It will improve how much you can reach, bend or turn to make everyday tasks easier and allow your muscles to work more effectively. What is stretching? Stretches are movements designed to increase flexibility and mobility in the muscles. Stretching is performed by placing the body into a position so the muscle (or group of muscles) being stretched is under tension. A bit like when you pull on a rubber band, the tension within the band increases. Stretching essentials Stretching can be done anywhere and anytime, just be sure to use these tips before you plunge into your routine. Before stretching, warm up with light walking or cycling for 5-10 minutes, you may hurt yourself if you stretch cold muscles. Even better, stretch after your workout when your muscles are warm. Rather than striving for the flexibility of a ballet dancer, focus on having equal length (i.e. flexibility) side to side. Muscles that are not equal in length on both sides may be why you have aches, pains, postural changes or frequent injuries. Stretch muscles that you use regularly, like your calves, legs, hips lower back, neck and shoulders. Also stretch both sides equally. Do not aim for pain, expect to feel tension but not pain. If it hurts you have taken the stretch too far, back off to the point where you don’t feel any pain, than hold the stretch there. Hold your stretch for 15-30 seconds and breathe normally. You may like to increase the time to 60 seconds in the muscles that are extra tight. Do not bounce. Move into and out of every stretch with smooth, controlled movements. Know when to exercise caution. You might need to adjust your stretching techniques for example if you have an injury or strained muscle, as stretching may further harm them. Stretching is often overlooked when it comes to keeping active, but it does play a vital role in your ability to move freely and do things independently. Stretching also: prevents injuries improves lower back pain may prevent stress and tension-related headaches reduce the risk of falls Stretching once a day won’t magically enable you to reach your toes. You’ll need to do it over time and remain committed to the process. It may have taken you months to get tight muscles, so you’re not going to be perfectly flexible after one or two days of stretching. Luckily you can do some stretching so easily in the comfort of your own home and the benefits will surprise you! Stretch at least two to three times a week, ideally daily. This will have you moving more freely and promote happy healthy muscles in no time.