by Elena Kwok, Physiotherapist It’s not enough to build strong muscles and improve your cardio. Flexibility plays a major role too. You might think that stretching is only for sportspersons or those who exercise. But we all need to stretch so that we are able to stay mobile and independent. We all know our muscles need to be strong to hold us up but we also need our muscles to be flexible so that we can maintain a decent range of motion in the joints. Stretching is what makes this possible. Without flexibility, muscles shorten and become tight. Then, when you suddenly use your muscles for activity, they are weaker and unable to extend all the way. Putting you at risk of injury. Let’s take sitting in a chair all day; this tightens up our hamstrings (the muscles on the back of the thigh). If these muscles are tight, it makes it more difficult to straighten your knee completely, which impedes your walking ability. When you then want to go for a run and the muscles are being called on, they may become damaged from suddenly being stretched. As well as muscle damage, joint injuries may occur, as the injured muscle is not strong enough to support the joint. If muscles are kept long, lean and flexible through stretching, it means that less force is exerted on the muscle itself. BUT! In this day and age who has the time to stretch every single muscle in your body you say? That’s just it! You don’t have to stretch every muscle. The main areas critical for mobility are your lower extremities: so your calves, hamstrings, quadriceps and hip flexors (front of the thigh). If you sit at a desk a lot, stretching your shoulders, neck and lower back are also beneficial. Keep in mind, stretching once off won’t give you perfect flexibility instantly. You need to perform it over time and commit to the process. If it’s taken months or even years to tighten up the muscle what makes you think stretching once or twice will give you perfect flexibility again. Aim to take some time out at least 3 or 4 times a week to stretch. The latest research has shown that stretching before activity can actually do more harm than good. Imagine an elastic band that’s been put in the freezer, when you take it out and stretch it straight away the likelihood that it will snap is much greater than if it is warmed up first. Your muscles are like an elastic band, so before you stretch, do some light activity, such as a brisk walk, to get blood flow to the area. The more blood flow you have, the more pliable and responsive your tissues are to change. If you are unsure of how to stretch just ask your physiotherapist and they can point you in the right direction!