By Edward Laskowski, M.D., Tribune Content Agency
8:12 PM EDT, September 4, 2013
Q: Is it possible to increase my flexibility? I am 39 and have never been flexible, despite working out regularly. But I feel like it's getting harder and harder to fully stretch, and I wake up feeling much older than I am. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
A: Yes, it is possible to increase flexibility, no matter what age you are. Stretching on a regular basis can help improve your flexibility. It also has a number of other health benefits. Better flexibility can lower your risk of injury. It can help your muscles function their best by allowing your joints to move through their full range of motion. Being more flexible also can make it easier to do physical activities. As you work toward improved flexibility, make sure you're following safe stretching techniques.
First, keep in mind that stretching should not be used as a warm-up before physical activity. You may hurt yourself if you stretch "cold" muscles that have not been warmed up. Before you stretch, do some light activity such as walking or biking at low intensity for five to 10 minutes. But the best time to stretch is after you're finished with your exercise routine, when blood flow to your muscles has already warmed up the tissues.
For your stretching to be effective, you should feel some tension while you stretch. If it hurts, you've pushed too far. Back off to the point where you don't feel pain. Hold a stretch for at least 30 seconds. In problem areas, hold the stretch for up to 60 seconds. Many people do not hold stretches long enough, so use a watch to time yourself as you stretch.
Static stretching, where you hold a stretch in place, is helpful for enhancing the range of motion around a joint and correcting differences in flexibility from side to side. For an overview of some useful static stretches, visit mayoclinic.org and watch "A guide to 10 basic stretches."
Static stretching may not be beneficial before intense ballistic activity, such as sprinting or track and field activities. Some research suggests static stretching before these types of events may actually hurt athletic performance.
Medical Edge from Mayo Clinic is an educational resource and doesn't replace regular medical care. Email a question to firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, visit mayoclinic.org.
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