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Stretch Into Wellness

Stretching is just as important to our well-being as good nutrition and exercise; unfortunately, many people think of stretching and flexibility as a thing of the past.

The American Running Association is giving a wake-up call to all of us who have neglected to maintain flexibility. Stretching decreases injury and improves physical performance and should be incorporated into our everyday lives. Here are some common misconceptions and excuses for not stretching:

Excuse #1: I only have 30 minutes to work out at lunch. There's no time to stretch.

Reality: "You can do enough stretching to decrease your risk of injury and enhance your performance in less than five minutes, if you do them on a regular basis," says Atlanta sports podiatrist Perry Julien, D.P.M., author of Sure Footing. Recent research indicates it is more effective to hold a stretch for just 10 seconds, and repeat the same stretch two or three times.

Excuse #2: I can never find the time to stretch effectively.

Reality: "You can incorporate stretching into your daily activities," says Kalish. "I stretch the back of my legs with wall leans during my morning shower." And you can stretch your calf muscles by gently lowering one heel at a time off an escalator step. You can fit stretching into many common activities. "As long as the muscle is warmed up, stretching can be done throughout the day," says Bob Anderson, author of Stretching.

Excuse #3: I don't know which stretches to use.

Reality: "There are no sacred stretches," says Anderson. Find a routine that works for you and meets your specific needs." The American Running Association provides a free brochure, "The Top 8 Stretches for Runners."

Excuse #4: It doesn't work for me. I was born inflexible.

Reality: While some people are more flexible than others, everyone can become more limber. "Stretching should never be turned into a competitive activity. Range of flexibility varies from one person to another, and each individual should focus on improving his own flexibility, within his own comfort range," says Anderson.

Excuse #5: I bounce and bounce and bounce through a stretch, but never get more flexible.

Reality: "Stretch gently and never bounce. Bouncing, or ballistic movements, cause the muscle to tighten to protect itself. This defeats the purpose of stretching and may cause the type of muscle tears that stretching is meant to prevent," says Jack Broderick, president of Fitness in Today's Times, a fitness consulting firm.

Excuse #6: I don't know how to stretch.

Reality: "In many cases, the more complicated something is, the less you do it," says Kalish. "The American Running Association promotes static stretching. It is easy to understand and perform. With static stretching, you lengthen the muscle to where there is a mild pull and hold, without bouncing. This can be done on your own, or by using assistive devises."

Excuse #7: I'm too tight. It hurts when I stretch.

Reality: "If stretches cause you pain, you must be overdoing it," says Broderick. "Pain means micro-trauma that could turn into something bigger if you don't back off."

Excuse #8: I used to be flexible. But now I'm older, and flexibility declines with age.

Reality: You use it or you lose it. The less you move and stretch, the less flexible you become. "If you can touch your toes at age 30, you should be able to touch your toes at age 50" says Anderson.

Excuse #9: I'll hurt myself if I stretch.

Reality: "Some surveys ask people if they've ever been injured. Then ask if they stretch. It may sound like stretching caused the injury when, in fact, the injury may have occurred long before the person stretched," says Anderson. "Such reports can be confusing."

Excuse #10: I've never stretched, so I must not need to.

Reality: Young people generally are more flexible because they have active lifestyles. Adults, on the other hand, can often be found sitting at a desk or standing behind a counter for long periods, which can lead to stiffness. You need to make a conscious effort to remain flexible, no matter what your work environment is.

For more information, visit the Association's Web site at

© 2001 Health Resources Publishing