President's Rx: Stretching

You may stretch before or after a workout, or during a yoga class, but what about the rest of the day? It's essential to find ways to lengthen your muscles for a few minutes on a regular basis. This week, Dr. Tedd L. Mitchell describes the benefits of stretching.

During a workout, a lot of us are probably concerned about the number of calories burned or miles run; but what about flexibility and posture? Stretching muscles that are frequently shortened during exercise or through your daily routine can ease and prevent chronic pain and help maintain your range of movement as you age.

Fitness experts at the Cooper Clinic in Dallas recommend warming up and stretching each of the major muscle groups (arms, legs, back, abs, and glutes) before exercise. However, stretching can be done anytime — when you wake up, before bed, or during breaks at work.

There are two types of stretches — static and dynamic. Both have physical and mental benefits. Routine stretching not only promotes balance and muscle lengthening, but also can reduce stress and help with establishing healthy sleep patterns.

Before exercise, you should warm up by doing dynamic stretches, which are like your workout, but at a lower intensity. A good warm-up before cardio or strength-training routine could be a brisk walk, walking lunges, leg swings, high steps, or  "butt kicks."

Static stretches like side bends, planks, butterflies or moves to stretch your hamstrings, calves, hips and thighs, held for 15 to 30 seconds are most beneficial after exercise.

With any stretch, static or dynamic, you should feel a stretch, but you shouldn't feel pain. Be careful not to push your body farther past your range of motion.