To stretch or not to stretch? That used to be the question. Now we know the answer is definitely to stretch Are there things you can do to get the most of your stretch routine? You bet! Here are five must do steps for best results.

Think warm and slow as you go
Stretching cold muscles is a no-no. Instead, warm up first and move into slow, static stretches that improve flexibility and range of motion without causing injury. Static stretches allow you to move gently into the stretch without bouncing. Notice when you begin to feel any resistance and hold the stretch there. If you feel pain or discomfort you have gone too far. Hold for 10 or so seconds and stretch a bit more if that feels right.

Keep breathing
A good stretching routine can also be a great stress buster. Breathe slowly and deeply as you move, taking care to tune into the rhythm of your body.  Deep breathing is centering and calming. Coupled with the gentle movement of stretching, you have an unbeatable combination for mind and body care. You might even consider training your focus on a mantra or affirmation as you and stretch. Two good ones are: my body is capable and strong and I am enough.

Stretch regularly

Ideally, you will add 15 to 20 minutes of stretching, three times weekly to your fitness routine at a minimum. Gentle stretching is also a good way to end each day. Take an after dinner walk to warm up if you have been sedentary most of the day, and then create an evening routine that you can do in five or ten minutes. When you stretch regularly you can expect less muscle tension and stiffness. You might even enjoy lower blood pressure and more restful sleep.

Consider using a foam roller
Foam rolling is like a free massage. You can do it yourself and enjoy all the benefits to the muscles and tissues involved. Use a roller to release muscles, relieve pain, improve blood flow to muscles and speed recovery after a tough workout or run. Foam rolling may even make your stretches more effective. Ultimately, that means better performance on the court or the track.

Play fair
Don’t give one muscle group all the love. Spread attention between opposing muscle groups. So if you stretch your biceps you should also stretch your triceps.

Stretching is essential to maintain flexibility and range of motion. It is also important for boosting athletic performance and busting stress and anxiety. Just remember to be gentle with your body. Avoid bouncing and keep breathing as you move into each stretch. Practiced regularly you will improve functional fitness and stretch your years of independence.