In our minds, we usually equate hard-core workout, sweat or fatigue at the gym or from playing sports as the workout that will get us into shape. Those are the 'goals' we have in mind. We typically bypass the stretching part at the beginning or at the end, thinking that it is a waste of time. Interestingly, it may be a competitive edge because people who take the time to stretch are less prone to injury, feel better, look longer and leaner, and perform better.
Stretching is so important, because it helps open up the blood circulation that heals our muscles as well as keep us healthy. I remember hearing about a man in China who was 100+ years old, and he showed the TV host what he did for his stretches everyday. No joke, I think he could do circles around people half his age. Stretching may also be one of the secrets to longevity, and living pain free.
As we age, our muscles degrade and are not as flexible as they once used to be. This explains why when we are kids, we can do backbends, but when we get older, we do backbends no more (unless we kept doing them or consistently stretched).
When we stretch, there is some knowledge we can learn on how to prevent muscle injury. Stretching should take place when your muscles are warm, which means some light walking or movement first in order to get the muscles warmed up. When we stretch cold muscles intensely, we could strain a muscle, which is why it is best to stretch midway through a workout where you get the benefit of warm muscles and can further your stretch to work towards more flexible muscles. Remember with muscles and memory, over time, if you don't use it, you will lose it.
If you are prone to falling when you walk or wear high heels, it is especially important to keep your ankle muscles flexible. This includes Achilles' tendon stretching and calf muscle stretches. There is a common runners stretch, where you step your foot into the edge of the wall, and push your body into the wall to feel the stretch at the Achilles' tendon. Again, it is best to stretch this part of the body when your muscles are warm, otherwise you could tear a muscle, especially if you immediately run hard or do a strenuous work out.
The back is usually overlooked for doing daily stretches. Most corporate workers are hunched at a desk on the computer, and people who work out in the field may lift heavy loads. This is why doing back stretches are important. We know too many people who have back problems as a result of not doing back stretches, having a strong core, and using lumbar support.
Here is a nice diagram from The Fitness Focus of some stretches to do to keep your muscles flexible and healthy! Remember that every little bit helps!