A MYFITNESSPAL BLOG ARTICLE BY Mackenzie Lobby Havey, “5 Ways to Make Stretching Effective” contains solid information on stretching. Her advice is sound; stretching must become a habit and be performed as an almost daily routine over weeks and months in order to for improvement in flexibility and mobility to be recognized. Some areas of the body may require relatively shorter (hamstrings) or longer (spine) periods of stretching work to have a beneficial effect, she explains.
The duration of the stretch also matters. In adults 21-39 years old a hamstring stretch of 30 seconds was sufficient to increase range of motion (ROM) in one study from 1997. In another 2001 study of participants older than 65 years (the average age of each experimental group was in the early-mid 80’s), 60 seconds was required for ROM to improve and for the benefit to persist.
Another bit of advice reminds us that prior to passive stretching the muscles should be prepared by 10-20 minutes of a “warm-up” activity.
She repeats a warning that’s often issued not to passively stretch prior to certain exercise to avoid a loss of strength and decreased performance; this is true for running. The standard caution may not always be helpful in my mind. Certainly, one would not passively stretch before a workout or event that depends upon our very best performance, like to improve speed or a race. But if we make a habit of routinely stretching early or later in the day, at a time removed from a run or workout session by an hour or more, it might be preferable to stretching sporadically or not at all. Not being a trainer I would love to have opinions on this topic!
An interesting piece of research that I ran across in trying find more updated material was a comparison between the effect of restorative yoga and low-impact passive stretching on stress hormone (cortisol) levels and perceived psychosocial stress in persons with metabolic syndrome. The study authors, Sarah M Corey and colleagues, saw improvement in stress hormone “dynamics” in the stretching group compared to the restorative (relaxation) yoga group, as well as improvement in assessments that measured “perceived stress and life stress” in the stretching group (stress decreased).
The researchers revealed they were expecting that yoga would be superior to stretching in exerting beneficial physiological and pycho-social effects in this population known to be at risk of developing diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Other study results indicated that the findings may have been related to social interactions between participants and others present in the session group. There was likely conversation with research persons administering the stretching workouts and other participants during their session, which could have lead to a sense of “belonging", and had a positive effect on stress hormones.
The bottom line might be that if you wish to decrease stress at the same time you are improving flexibility and mobility, try to have fun while you routinely stretch, doing it with friends or family or while watching an engaging TV talk show. Personally I also think the added flexibility that came from stretching allowed this group to feel they now “belonged” to a larger group of physically fit and active individuals!
If you want a comprehensive list of stretches commonly prescribed for runners and exercisers, an article by Ashley Lauretta for Active.com, “10 Post-workout Stretches Everyone Should Do”, demonstrates 10 such moves.
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Running, walking, and fitness activities enable us to experience our physical selves in a world mostly accessed through use of fingers on a mobile device.
EARNED RUNS is edited and authored by me, runner and founder. I began participating in road races before 5Ks were common. I've been a dietitian, practiced and taught clinical pathology, and been involved with research that utilized pathology. I am fascinated with understanding the origins of disease as well as health.
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