Stretch Your Way to Good Health on the Total Body Diet

By Victoria Shanta Retelny, Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics

Strength and flexibility are a big part of health and a great way to get in touch with your total body. Stretching can improve athletic performance, as well as decrease risk of injuries.

Before your stretch, consult with your healthcare provider or physical therapist, particularly if you have an injury. Although stretching is a key part of a healthy lifestyle, you can injure yourself or aggravate an existing injury if you don’t know what you’re doing.

Here are some tips for stretching well:

  • Stretch when warm. Don’t stretch as soon as you wake up or when your muscles are cold. Stretch after you’re warmed up by either walking, lightly jogging, or biking to get blood pumping in your arms and legs.

  • Avoid pain. Forget that old adage “No pain, no gain.” You never want to push the stretch to the point of pain.

  • Strive for symmetry with your stretches. Your goal is equal flexibility on each side.

  • Smooth out your stretches. Avoid bouncing — it can cause a muscle injury.

  • Time your stretches. Hold each stretch for 30 to 60 seconds, but don’t hold your breath. Breathe in and out normally.

  • Schedule your stretches. To make stretching part of your routine, aim for at least two to three times per week. It’s great to cool down with stretching, too.

  • Stretch to your sport. For example, runners or basketball players should focus on hamstrings; tennis players should focus on arms, shoulders, and quadriceps.