Wellness: Stretch Your Limits

jet cara stretch
Jet Cara, studio manager of StretchLab Pavilions. Photo by Susan Yee.

We don’t know if the late, great Betty White incorporated stretching into her daily routine, but I think we can all agree that White, who died this past New Year’s Eve just a few weeks shy of her centennial birthday, aged in a way that many aspire to.

Want to live independently when you are 99 à la Ms. White? Stretching might be part of that fountain of-youth cocktail, at least according to local experts.

Jet Cara, studio manager of StretchLab Pavilions, and Donna Just, a physical therapist with Sutter Care at Home in Roseville, agree: If you want to lead an independent life, stretching is an important part of your regimen.

“The most important thing that stretching helps with is range of motion,” says Cara, who holds a degree in kinesiology and has been in the health and fitness industry for 10 years. “From an athletic standpoint, if you are in a compromised position (i.e., you lose balance), your body is able to go into those ranges of position,” he explains. Just concurs. “Balance is something that tends to deteriorate with age if people don’t stay physically active,” she says. “The No. 1 rule with seniors is ‘don’t fall down.’ When you are younger, you can stretch out quickly or catch yourself, and older folks tend to have a slower reaction time, which can contribute to a fall,” says Just.

jet cara talks the importance of a stretch
Jet Cara. Photo by Susan Yee

So does this mean that if you are, say, 30 or younger, you can get away with not stretching? Yes and no, say the experts. “Once you hit 35, you hit that regret factor with younger folks. You are able to get away with not stretching, but then you wake up and your knees buckle and your back hurts,” says Cara, noting that the younger folks who really understand the importance of stretching are the ones who have undergone injury or trauma. However, Just points out that if you have a fairly active lifestyle that incorporates stretching (for example, you’re the parent of a floor-crawling young child), you might be OK not getting into a formal routine. “Daily life puts them in situations where they are doing things to flex and stretch,” she says.

But you don’t have to be the parent of an active toddler to incorporate stretching into your daily routine. “Stretch when you are putting on your shoes and socks or

bending down to reach the floor. Spend a little extra time in something you are already doing and give yourself a little stretch,” says Just, who is also a fan of yoga—in a studio or following a video; it doesn’t matter—for building strength and flexibility, and tai chi because it incorporates balance utilizing slow, controlled movements. “Strength in the lower body contributes to better balance because you have a better foundation,” she says. She recommends this litmus test: “If you are going to get something low, squat instead of bend,” says Just. “If you can maintain enough strength in your legs that you can squat and get back up, you will be doing really good with strength and flexibility.”

Need some help with that? Consider a session—or several—at someplace like StretchLab Pavilions, where highly trained “flexologists” use a technique called proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation, or PNF, which helps “contract the muscle so we are creating tension and then relaxing our muscles to create length,” explains Cara.

The PNF technique can also help clients who might fall on the other end of the spectrum they are too flexible. Yes, there is a risk of being too flexible. “Your risk for injury when you are too flexible is higher than when you are too tense,” says Cara. “It’s easier for you to sprain an ankle, slip, fall, dislocate something.” PNF, he says, can help you with hypermobility. “It is one thing to be able to open and close the door, but are you able to

control that?” he says by way of example. “Using PNF, clients are not only holding stretches but they are contracting the muscles and that helps control stability and that gives a mind muscle connection, ‘Oh yeah, I feel that,’” he explains. “They go through a process of contracting for 10 seconds and then exhaling or relaxing the muscle for five seconds, and that helps lengthen the muscle and then they hold statically for about 20 seconds.” The benefit, he says, is twofold. “It helps lengthen the muscles of people who are too tight and tense, and it helps people who are too flexible have that mind-muscle connection: feel the muscle, feel the stretch.”

Stretching isn’t just important to live life fully when we are older or for the ultra-tense or uber-limber individual. Anyone can benefit. Feeling some pain? You might find stretching provides welcome relief. “Your skin is supposed to be moving over your muscle and not be adherent to it,” says Just. “If you are having pain, you might need to do some stretching to loose

en some things up to allow the soft tissue to elongate and move freely and even allow your skin to move.” Muscle soreness usually comes the day after a workout, says Cara, so to help to ease the soreness, stretching should definitely be a part of your rest-day routine. “You don’t have to do a lot of stretches but you do need to stretch,” he says.

Whether it’s attending a yoga class or working with a trainer or a StretchLab flexologist, women might be slightly better at taking the time to stretch than men. “We actually get a lot of wives who send their husbands,” says Cara of some of the men he sees at StretchLab Pavilions, though that is changing. “When they see a LeBron James getting stretched on a basketball court, they realize they should stretch.”

OK, the burning question: How long is this going to take? That, say the experts, depends on your lifestyle. Constantly moving or on your feet all day? Think parent of a young child, nurse, mail carrier, etc. You might not need that much. At your desk 40 hours a week—a “desk jockey,” as Cara puts it? You might need more. “The best thing to do is identify the purpose of it. Why do you feel like stretching is going to benefit you?” he says. Then, start slowly. “Start with two to five minutes a day. Are you able to commit to that? If you are doing that pretty consistently, that is when you can add more time to your stretch routine,” he says.

It helps to keep in mind that the benefits, according to Just and Cara, go beyond the physical. We’re talking less stress and better sleep. “In our studio, you are with a professional with a focus and emphasis on you and what your body is doing,” says Cara. “You will get more flexible and looser, and for those minutes you are at the mercy of us, in a good way. It’s a good release. Says Just, “Five to 10 minutes in the morning and before bedtime can help relieve daytime stiffness and pain as well as allow for better comfort and sleep.”

The really good news: It’s never too late to start a stretching routine.

“It’s just being able to live life that is unassisted and creates longevity so that you are able to tie your shoes when you are 90,” says Cara. Just believes maintaining movement is the key to an independent lifestyle. “I try to promote being physically active as long as you’re on this earth,” she says. “You have to keep moving. Then you won’t be dependent on others, and you can live in your own home.” Just like Betty White.

Stretching is important for injury prevention, says Jet Cara, studio manager of StretchLab Pavilions. However, the type of stretching you should do before a workout differs from the kind you will do after. Prior to working out, experts such as Cara suggest dynamic or active stretching “to open the area out and not be so tense during the workout,” he says. Post workout and on your days off, experts recommend static stretching, where you hold the poses longer. “That will allow for recovery and blood flow,” says Cara.

Looking to get limber? Find some assistance at one of these joints (pun intended).

Active Bodywork

Capitol Ave., Suite 204
Sacramento; (916) 706-2566; and
2041Hallmark Drive, Suite 2,
Sacramento; (916) 999-0964;

Massage Envy

various locations;

Sacramento Stretch Therapy

2703 Fifth St., Suite 6;
Sacramento; (916) 690-7270;

StretchLab Folsom

230 Palladio Parkway, Suite 1223
Folsom; (916) 461-2880

StretchLab Pavilions

566 Pavilions Lane, Suite B-566
Sacramento; (916) 413-7300;