It doesn’t matter if you’re 35, 55, 75 or 95 years old. The actual number of years you’ve spent in your body is far less important than how old you feel. And you absolutely don’t need to feel your age.
As we get older, many of us focus on keeping our bodies fit through intense exercise like high-intensity interval training, cardio or strength training with weights. But there is one form of fitness that often goes by the wayside—stretching. With all of the exercise Americans are doing, whether it is biking, running, swimming or Crossfit—our muscles are becoming very contracted, inflexible and overworked. We are simply not stretching enough, and it is making many of us feel ten years older than we should.
Stretching is one of the most undervalued forms of fitness. There is a tendency to rush through warm-ups and cool-downs and neglect to give our muscles proper time to lengthen and relax. But if you dedicate a little time each day, stretching will keep your body feeling younger for a whole lot longer. Regular stretching exercises preserve a healthy range of motion which keeps posture healthy, helps prevent joint degeneration and improves overall fitness performance.
Stretching and moving your joints through their entire range of motion also supports healthy lymph flow. Unlike the circulatory system, lymph relies on motion and gravity to keep it flowing through the body system. Otherwise, lymph becomes stagnant, which renders it less effective and disease-prone. Since your lymph is responsible for trapping unwanted bacteria, cells and toxins for removal, it’s pretty important that you take care of it. Fully utilizing your range of motion also loosens up the synovial fluid in the joints, which assists with joint health. Healthy synovial fluid helps to stave off the inflammatory joint diseases that become more common with old age, like arthritis. So, start stretching!
However, it is important to know that there are different types of stretching, and there is some controversy as to whether static stretching or dynamic stretching is more beneficial. According to some studies, if you’re warming up for activity, static stretching (holding a position for 30+ seconds) may actually weaken muscles and hinder performance. In fact, studies and analyses have recommended that static stretching not be the sole warm-up prior to any activity. Dynamic stretching, in which you move through lengthening positions, is a lot more beneficial before a workout. Yoga is technically a form of dynamic stretching.
If you are simply stretching before bed, it’s important to do the types of stretches that feel most beneficial to you and to breathe into them. Dynamic stretch or static, breathing allows your muscles and nervous system to fully release, making it the most important thing to remember as you create a more regular stretching program for yourself.
If you’re looking to embark upon your own stretching routine, you could either try yoga classes (online or in a studio) or start with some simple and free yoga routines. It’s important to keep yourself physically flexible; you’ll feel younger and more injury resistant. And don’t forget the sheer pleasures that can be had from being able to touch your toes any time you want! Flexibility beats stiff, rusty limbs any day.