Expert recommendations for adult fitness include 150 minutes per week of cardio and two sessions of strength training. As you plan to get stronger muscles and to get your heart pumping, don’t forget the third aspect of fitness: flexibility.
Do you need to work on flexibility?
Do you really need to stretch? The question is controversial. Studies have shown that regular aerobic exercise reduces the chances of developing dementia, while stretching and toning have no such effect. Stretching before a workout has been shown to have no effect on athletic performance, or even a negative effect. Other studies have found that stretching doesn’t prevent injuries or improve posture, both things that traditionally are associated with stretching exercises.
However, stretching does increase flexibility. What does that mean?
- You will be better able to do basic daily tasks like reaching and bending without discomfort.
- You may experience less back pain and greater comfort in daily activities.
- Greater flexibility can also lead to better balance, which lessens the likelihood of falling.
Stretching also feels good and can be relaxing.
How to stretch effectively
The way you learned to stretch in PE class may not be the right way. You should not bounce into a stretch. You also shouldn’t work with a partner who pushes you beyond your natural range of motion. Don’t hold a deep stretch too long, either — 15 seconds is long enough.
Instead, breathe gently into the stretch without bouncing or pushing beyond comfort. You can gradually take your stretch further as you become more flexible, but every body has its limits. Stretching should not be painful.
Aim to spend about one minute stretching each area of your body. This can be one long stretch or several repetitions of a stretching exercise. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends two to three stretching sessions per week.
There are two types of stretches:
- Dynamic stretches include movement. For example, you might move your arms in circles or swing your legs back and forth. This type of stretch can “warm up” your muscles before a workout.
- Static stretches involve holding a stretched position. For example, you might reach down to touch your toes or raise your arms above your head. This type of stretch will work better with muscles that are already warm, so do these stretches during or after a workout.
Either type of stretch makes a relaxing cool down after cardio or strength sessions.
If you are just starting to exercise, or getting back to exercise after a long time, you might want to talk with your doctor before starting.