KEY POINTS:

1. Regular stretching decreases muscle tension, reduces pain, improves range of motion, relaxes muscles and nerves, and decreases stress.

2. There are two main types of stretches - Dynamic and Static - which have opposite effects on the body. 

3. Dynamic stretching (anything that stretches your muscle while moving) should be done before exercise as it increases blood flow, muscle temperature, and range of motion.

4. Static stretching (holding your muscle in a stretch for a period of time) should be done after exercise as it helps to align muscles and reduce tension.

Stretching (also known as building flexibility and mobility) is an incredibly important element of overall fitness that is often overlooked. Yes, there is an ongoing debate about exactly what kind of stretching is best, but there is no debate about the fact that everyone should do it. Regular stretching decreases muscle tension, reduces pain and improves range of motion. In an era when activities like sitting decrease our flexibility, stretching matters a lot.

The most important message about stretching is to create a consistent routine. Whether you attend yoga, stretch while hanging out with your kids or stretch before or after a workout, try to aim for a minimum of 15 minutes per day.

But what kind of stretches should you do?

There are two major categories of stretches: static and dynamic. Static is the name for traditional stretches where you put a muscle on stretch and hold it for a period of time. Dynamic activation is the name for any motion that extends your muscles while moving, like swinging your legs or arms or doing lunges before a workout. Each type of stretching has an opposite effect on the nervous system.

Before you exercise, dynamic activation is the preferred approach. Dynamic activation causes excitatory neuromuscular signals to be sent from your brain to your muscles and increases range of motion, blood flow and muscle temperature, all of which help with exercise.

Static stretching is best done when you are cooling down or when you're just stretching to relax. It helps to align your muscle fibres and reduces tension. So do this type of stretching after exercise or after a long day to relax your muscles and nerves and to de-stress.

If you are new to static or dynamic stretching, make sure you get some expert advice about how to proceed so that you have good form and understand the basic guidelines. For example, you should never bounce during a static stretch and should hold each stretch for 20-30 seconds. Also, make sure you warm up prior to dynamic stretching. See the cardio warm-up for examples of dynamic stretches you can do before your workout and this stretching routine for static stretches you should do post-workout.

Today's POWER-UP: Stretch at work

Make a commitment to some form of stretching for 15 minutes each day. For some examples of stretches you can do at your desk try this Ultimate Deskercise Routine or these 8 Desk Stretches from the Mayo Clinic.