When it comes to stretching, cats are pros. Just watch one flex its toes, arch its back and slowly stretch its spine. You can almost feel the relaxed, limber contentment. Stretching tense, tight muscles feels fabulous. Plus, a few minutes of stretching can help you prepare your body for activity, relax your muscles, relieve stiffness and stress, and maintain flexibility throughout your life.
Flexibility becomes even more important after age 40, when your tissues start to lose elasticity. Yoga and tai chi are excellent ways to help maintain your flexibility, while also improving your balance and relieving stress.
Stretching the stiffness away
If you spend most of your day sitting, get up as often as you can. It will energize you and it literally could save your life. Sitting for long periods is associated with higher rates of Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer and death. Stand up at least twice an hour — and ideally, every 15 to 20 minutes — to walk around and stretch.
Here are other suggestions:
- Roll your shoulders a few times.
- Stretch your neck by looking side to side, then up and down, then tilting your head side to side.
- Stretch your arms upward, as if you’re reaching for something up high.
- Brace your forearms against a doorway and leaning forward to open up your chest.
- Get in and out of your chair several times to energize your leg muscles.
Stretching with exercise
Should you stretch before a workout, or after? Both have benefits. There are two basic kinds of stretching. Static stretches are the “stretch and hold” stretches that many of us do, stretching a muscle and holding it for about 30 seconds.
Static stretches — such as stretching your calves against a wall, or bending forward to touch your toes — are great for improving flexibility and range of motion. Dynamic stretches are active stretches done while you’re moving. Dynamic stretches — such as walking lunges and arm circles — can increase blood flow and prime your body for an activity.
Here are some tips for stretching:
- Warm up first. Do five to 10 minutes of light aerobic exercise – such as brisk walking – before either type of stretching to increase blood flow and help you move better.
- Do five to seven minutes of dynamic stretching before a workout. For best performance, do dynamic stretches that mimic the activity you’re about to do.
- Do five minutes of static stretching after exercise. While there isn’t much evidence that you need to stretch after exercise, most people like how it feels. Five minutes is plenty.
- Hold static stretches for about 30 to 45 seconds. Longer isn’t necessarily better, and could impair your performance.
- Don’t stretch to the point of pain. Stretches should be low to moderate in intensity, with no discomfort.
- Don’t overstretch. Be careful not to overstretch. This can weaken your joints. Stretching plays an equal role with conditioning and strengthening in keeping your body strong, energized and limber. Don’t miss out on the benefits of a good stretch.
Get in touch with your inner cat today.