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Nutrition & Fitness

5 ways to improve flexibility

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Andrew Meade Photography, Inc.

It's difficult to fit proper exercise into our daily routines. 

Between work and personal obligations, managing to reach the gym has become reason to celebrate. Leading a life without physical activity can cause anxiety, depression and obesity. Even when we exercise, we often focus exclusively on weightlifting and cardiovascular activities-both of which are extremely important, but we neglect flexibility. 

Simple stretching can improve circulation, posture and mood as well as decrease joint rigidity and muscle stiffness. Yoga's recent popularity has helped correct this, but there are still many people throughout the world who would benefit immensely from more active lifestyles that include regular stretching. 

Here are a few common forms of stretching to improve your flexibility.

Passive stretching
This is one of the most common forms of stretching — perhaps second only to yawning while extending your arms in your cubicle at work. Passive stretching is what we teach children and teenagers to do before basketball games, karate matches and so on. You stretch a body part into a pose and maintain it with the assistance of another body part. When you hold one arm across your chest and stretch it back with the other, you are working at passive stretching.

Active stretching
This mode of stretching is when you hold a particular position and maintain it exclusively with your muscle strength. Active stretching poses can typically help for about 8 to 10 seconds.

Isometric stretching
This is a form of static stretching that strengthens and lengthens your muscles. The most common way to perform an isometric stretch is to apply resistance with your own limbs. A common example of isometric stretching is when you sit down, stick your left leg out, place the bottom of your right foot on the inside of your left leg, bend forward, touch your left foot with your hands and apply pressure, stretching your leg muscles. The added resistance that you apply helps build muscle strength.

Dynamic stretching
This method of stretching can improve athletic performance and decrease risk of injury. It is different from passive stretching because you do not maintain an elongated and motionless stance for an extended period of time. Rather, you gradually increase tempo and reach as you move your limbs and body never extending beyond your range of motion. This method can include leg lifts, kicks and lunges.

Ballistic stretching
The above stretching techniques can improve your well-being, but you need to be wary of other methods that are now considered risky. Ballistic stretching once experienced popularity but has come under scrutiny by many physical therapists. This form of stretching uses your body's momentum in an effort to extend your range of motion. You usually swing or bounce a limb through its full range of motion. In the past, martial artists and gymnasts who need active flexibility have used this form of stretching. However, many experts argue that ballistic stretching could lead to injury and do not recommend it.