Stretching to Stay Fit

This reader has an easy and affordable way to "reach" toward his fitness goal…every day.

By Douglas Taurel, Hoboken, New Jersey

Stretching to Stay Fit

Looking for a simple way to integrate fitness into your day? Trying to improve or expand an existing workout? It's not too much of a stretch to say that the solution is stretching!

Not only is stretching simple and economical, but it increases your flexibility and agility and helps keep you feeling your best.

Seemingly passive activities like sitting on the couch watching television can cause unused muscles and tendons to tighten. So, if your idea of stretching is reaching for the TV remote control, it might be time to loosen up those muscles…and do some stretching exercises!

It's well-documented that stretching reduces the risk of injury and improves workouts, but stretching can enhance your daily life, too. Stretching primes your body for everything from golfing and snow shoveling to shopping at the mall and playing with the kids.

Stretching every day also reduces stress, improves your posture and can even help ease back pain. Plus, stretching doesn't involve expensive equipment…and there's always time to sneak in a stretch or two—no matter where you are.

Stretching Made Simple

Because I work as a personal trainer, I perform a couple of stretching exercises every few hours. Many people, however, carry out an entire stretching routine at one time, often first thing in the morning.

Regardless of when you stretch, it's important to do so correctly. If you are recovering from an injury or have other health issues, consult your physician first, then keep the following in mind and start stretching:

  • Warm up. Be sure to warm your muscles a bit before stretching. Walking or marching in place are great options.
  • Move smoothly and steadily. Stretch slowly. You should feel a slight pulling sensation in your muscles as they extend. You want to feel resistance—not pain. Pain is your body's way of warning you that you're stretching too far.

    Make sure your stretches are steady and deliberate, not bouncy. Hold each stretch for 15 to 20 seconds.

  • Breathe. Never hold your breath while holding a stretch. Breathe comfortably. Exhale deeply for the last 5 seconds, relaxing into the stretch as much as possible.
  • Build endurance. The best way to start stretching is to work into it gradually. Practice daily, repeating each stretch two to three times with short breaks in between. Increase the repetitions and stretch your muscles further as your range of motion increases.

Remember that complete wellness doesn't stop with daily stretching. Eating right and increasing your heart rate through exercise are key factors to overall health as well.

The more flexible your body becomes, the more often you'll want to stretch. Soon, you'll find that the day doesn't feel complete without performing your stretching routine.

Give it a try. I guarantee that by stretching every day you'll enjoy life with renewed enthusiasm and feel the best you've felt in years. And that's no stretch of the imagination!