Stretching ideas to boost flexibility

Most people stretch before or after a workout, so stretching may seem like an afterthought. And while it’s true those can be key times to stretch, there are benefits to stretching other times too. Even on its own, stretching is a great exercise. It keeps muscles strong, healthy and boosts flexibility.1

Young kids stretch almost instinctively — after all, there isn’t a yoga pose called “happy baby” for nothing. But once kids start school, they spend a lot of time sitting, just like many adults. So their muscles can get tight.

Muscle pain is often caused by tension or overuse.2  But moves that lengthen the muscles — like quad and hamstring stretches, shoulder openers and toe touches — are good for the joints. They increase joint range of motion so you move more easily through the day.3 That mobility will pay off later in life.

That’s why kids and teens could benefit from stretching or flexibility exercises at least 3 days a week.3 And one of the best things about stretches is how easy they are to fit into our daily activities. A bend here and a reach there throughout the day is a great way to get the blood flowing and — in the case of yoga moves — may help manage stress when you need it.3,4

Ready to loosen up? Here’s how to find opportunities to work in a few stretches, either during the course of your day or before or after other types of exercise.

Warm up with the right kind of stretches

In the past, fitness experts recommended traditional static stretches, such as hamstring stretches, before any type of physical activity. Not anymore. We now know that warming up the muscles is a better way to prep the body before a run, game or swim.3

One way to warm up is to do a more low-key version of the activity — a walk before you run or slow laps in a pool before a rigorous swim. But another way to warm up is by doing dynamic stretching.3

Dynamic stretches are moves such as lunges and arm and hip circles.5 These stretches get your blood moving, boost heart rate and activate muscles. Dynamic stretching works on your joints too, so it’s a good way to boost flexibility.3 These types of stretches also can lower the risk of injuries, explains exercise physiologist Pete McCall, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist.

Make it a habit to spend 5 to 10 minutes warming up before any family activity, whether it’s a neighborhood walk or family kickball game.3 By pairing dynamic stretching with other heart-pumping family activities, you’ll sneak in flexibility and mobility work without even having to think about it.

Stretch out after workouts

After workouts, the goal of stretching is to cool down and kick off the body’s recovery process.

For example, when that hike is done, gather the family together and do some traditional bend-and-hold stretches while you swap stories and laughs from the day. Try to touch your toes. Reach your arms over your body.

Spending even 5 minutes doing this after an activity may be helpful. Just remember these stretching basics:1,3

  • Hold each stretch for about 30 seconds
  • Stretch each side equally
  • Remind yourself and your kids to keep breathing while stretching
  • Avoid bouncing while stretching. Bouncing can hurt the muscle you’re stretching
  • Stop or ease up if it hurts or feels uncomfortable. Stretching is supposed to feel good

Stretch after work or school

If you’ve been sitting most of the day on the job or in school, it’s not a bad idea to stretch. While you’re all watching TV or catching up on the day, bend from side to side. Clasp your hands behind your back to open the shoulders. Or sit with your feet together in a seated butterfly position to open up the hips.

Add yoga to your nighttime routine

Yoga isn’t just a great way to limber up. It also builds strength and balance, and it can help manage energy levels and stress. That's one reason why more kids of all ages are starting to learn yoga at school.4

“I tell my daughters, ‘Show me what you know,’” says McCall. “Yoga teaches kids body awareness and self-confidence because they think, ‘I can do cool things with my body.’”

And with names like downward dog, mountain pose and tree pose, it’s no wonder that kids have fun doing yoga poses. If you’re new to yoga, one way to learn the poses is by taking a class as a family. Some studios offer classes for parents and kids together. Or you may be able to find kid-and-parent classes you like online.

After you learn the poses, mix yoga into your family’s fitness routine before bedtime. Put on some soothing music, turn down the lights and do some calming moves together for 5 or 10 minutes.

Another benefit of yoga? It can help kids and adults alike get a better night’s sleep.4

By keeping muscles strong, stretching can help you go about your life with fewer aches and strains. Mix in short sessions throughout your day. Your muscles will thank you.

This article is part of UnitedHealthcare’s 6-Day Family Fitness Challenge. Being active — at every age and stage — is key to overall health. And getting the whole family involved makes it more fun and sets good habits early on. We’re helping families get moving, and we encourage every member of the household to join.

Ready to check out the rest of the Family Fitness Challenge? Read more:

Already a member?

Sign in or register on your plan website to see personalized benefit details and resources to help you manage your plan and health.