USDA Stretching Guidelines

Stretching can improve your flexibility and reduce muscle tension.
Stretching can improve your flexibility and reduce muscle tension.

Stretching feels great -- especially if you've been in one position for any length of time. It comes naturally to us at those times. But structured stretching has special advantages. Stretching helps us to:

  • ┬áreduce muscle tension
  • improve flexibility
  • increase range of movement
  • increase blood circulation a bit

Stretching is simple and easy to do -- and it can be done just about anywhere without any special equipment. Consider taking a five-minute stretch break for every two hours you spend sitting or driving. You'll feel refreshed with a stretching routine that goes from head to toe. Consider this article an introduction to the wonderful world of stretching.

To stretch properly and safely, stretch slowly through the muscle's range of motion just until resistance is felt -- the point at which you feel a slight pull. Stop and hold each stretch for 10 to 20 seconds without bouncing. Bouncing activates a muscle's stretch reflex, making it tighter and shorter. This may cause tiny tears in the muscle, resulting in injury and soreness.

During the stretch, keep breathing rhythmically and slowly; do not hold your breath. Repeat each stretch a couple times -- or more if you like.

If you spend most of your time sitting down because of physical ailments, be active in your chair. There are books and videos for getting fit while you sit. Start with easy, low-intensity moves, and gradually progress to an entire aerobic workout in your chair. Nearly everyone can reap the rewards of physical activity.See the next page for stretching exercises to get started.