Stretching the major muscle groups is a very important part of all types of exercise. Before stretching, consider your previous activity level. Have you been reading, watching T.V., etc.–inactive for awhile? If so, your circulation is slow, if not sluggish. At this level your body is like a cool, stiff piece of clay needing to be warmed before it becomes supple and flexible. Recent research affirms static stretching is best done on the cool-down phase after aerobic exercise. Be sure to warm-up with 5 – 8 minutes of very low intensity aerobic activity (slow walking, cycling, rowing, etc.). At this point, your body is like a warm piece of clay–it’s then ready for light, short, 5-10 second stretches. Also, the cardiovascular system adjusts blood flow from the abdomen, directing it to the active muscles where needed the most. The most effective time for slow, static stretching is after exercise, in the cool-down phase–with longer static holds, 20-30+ seconds. Stretching increases muscle and connective tissue temperature, reducing risk of injuries, muscle pulls, and soreness.
Cool-downs are also an important part of high intensity exercise. Gradually slowing the heart rate and metabolism for ten minutes has great benefits. It prevents blood pooling and rapid drop of blood pressure, which can cause dizziness, nausea, or even fainting. Cool-downs are kind to your muscles and heart. They reduce post-exercise muscle spasm and help prevent disturbances in cardiac rhythm. (Also remember to replace fluids and that a healthy diet is vital to fitness.) Time invested in warm-ups, stretching, and cool-downs pay valuable health dividends.
Go for it! Your investment in health will pay multiple dividends. Exercise promotes toning, endurance, flexibility, and has positive impact on blood pressure, cholesterol, and metabolism. Weight bearing exercises (including brisk walking) strengthen the skeletal system which reduces risk of osteoporosis. The extra oxygen uptake nourishes your heart, lungs, mind, and every cell of your body. What more could you want? Exercise is nature’s flab buster and stress crusher.
You might be thinking, “Come on; is this stuff really that important?” Yes! I’ll guarantee you from personal experience–the older you get, the more important it becomes.