To stretch, or not to stretch? That is the question.Especially if squeezing in exercise time is already a challenge — you might be tempted to scrimp on stretching.But new research suggests that stretching time may save you from later aches and pains.A recent study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine tracked stretching and soreness among 2,125 Norwegian men and women who averaged 30-60 minutes of exercise 3 times a week.Those who stretched enjoyed a 23% reduction in bothersome soreness — and a 25% drop in muscle/tendon injury risk.
Why? Stretching helps the body process the lactic acid that causes soreness, simultaneously oxygenating muscles through improved blood flow.While this particular study had participants stretch both before and after activity, we recommend stretching afterwards, and warming up beforehand with low-intensity repetitions of the movement you’ll be doing in your workout.Stretching before exercise may impair muscles’ ability to contract, thereby reducing muscle strength by as much as 28% in one study.The benefits of stretching go beyond alleviating soreness, as flexibility remains a key marker of longevity.So, in addition to your cardio and strength-building exercise, try yoga, which incorporates lots of stretching.Also, don’t neglect the role of diet in easing soreness and speeding healing: Potassium sources like bananas and lima beans can help prevent muscle cramps, while pineapple’s bromelain might ease inflammation and support joint health.
Published July 1, 2010