Stretching is very important for flexibility, range of motion and injury prevention. Incorporating stretching into your daily workouts is a given but including it in your day routine is just as important to health and body functioning as regular exercise. It relaxes your muscles and increases blood flow and nutrients to your cartilage and muscles.
Why it’s important
Stretching keeps the muscles flexible, strong, and healthy, and we need that flexibility to maintain a range of motion in the joints. Without it, the muscles shorten and become tight. Then, when you call on the muscles for activity, they are weak and unable to extend all the way. That puts you at risk for joint pain, strains, and muscle damage.
For example, sitting in a chair all day results in tight hamstrings in the back of the thigh. That can make it harder to extend your leg or straighten your knee all the way, which inhibits walking. Likewise, when tight muscles are suddenly called on for a strenuous activity that stretches them, such as playing tennis, they may become damaged from suddenly being stretched. Injured muscles may not be strong enough to support the joints, which can lead to joint injury.
Regular stretching keeps muscles long, lean, and flexible, and this means that exertion “won’t put too much force on the muscle itself,” says Nolan. Healthy muscles also help a person with balance problems to avoid falls.
Where to start
With a body full of muscles, the idea of daily stretching may seem overwhelming. But Nolan says you don’t have to stretch every muscle you have. “The areas critical for mobility are in your lower extremities: your calves, your hamstrings, your hip flexors in the pelvis and quadriceps in the front of the thigh.” Stretching your shoulders, neck, and lower back is also beneficial. Aim for a program of daily stretches or at least three or four times per week.
Find a physical therapist (your local Y is a good place to start) who can assess your muscle strength and tailor a stretching program to fit your needs. If you have chronic conditions such as Parkinson’s disease or arthritis, you’ll want to clear a new stretching regimen with your doctor before you start.
Here are 10 reasons why you should be stretching on a regular basis.
- Increased flexibility
Better flexibility and increased range-of-motion are common results of a daily stretching routine. But the real reason both those things are so important has to do with injury prevention. When muscles and limbs become “looser,” and more moveable, that means you can move about more actively before injuring yourself. Tense, inflexible limbs and muscles are easily injured, mainly because they aren’t adapted to motion or stretching.
- Better circulation
When muscles are in motion, blood flow increases, delivering vital nutrients to the joints and tissue. As a result, waste products in the blood are carried away and the muscles become more efficient.
- Decreased stress
Physical tension often leads to other problems, including mental stress and overall bodily inflexibility. Stretching can instantaneously remove muscle tension and eventually lead to less mental and emotional stress in one’s life. In a way, muscle tension is like low-level pain. When a muscle is stretched and then relaxed, all sorts of chemical processes take place that cause tension to decrease, or sometimes disappear altogether.
- Improved posture
When a stretching routine includes the muscles of the lower back, neck and shoulders, the body usually responds, in time, with better overall posture. Hunched shoulders are often a long-term result of a tight, tensed upper body. Learning to loosen the torso’s musculature with daily stretching can eventually lead to a more erect, efficient gait.
- Joint health
Believe it or not, stretching can immensely help your joints. If the muscles that surround your joints are tight and tense, this can cause issues in using that joint. Your movements will be slow, limited and sometimes even painful. By lengthening those muscles, you’re freeing your joint up so it can move loosely and without difficulty.
- Muscle repair
Since stretching increases your body’s circulation so much, it has great healing properties for your muscles. Not only is this important for your muscle function, but it also benefits them post workout. By helping them to repair quicker, you’re getting much more out of your workout if you stretch regularly than if you don’t.
- Increased energy
Sure, coffee is great for kicking up your energy levels, but so is stretching! Again, an increase in your body’s circulation does more than just get your blood pumping. By getting more oxygen to your vital organs, you will discover that this also makes you feel more awake. It also increases your energy levels by reducing the stress that can wear you down and exhaust you.
- Prevent injuries in the gym
There is a lot of controversy over whether or not stretching helps to prevent injuries in the gym. However, the logic behind stretching preventing injuries is fairly sound.
When you stretch your muscles, you lengthen them and increase your range of motion. This makes it possible for your body to perform exercises correctly and accurately. If you have tight muscles, your range of motion is limited, and if you push past the point that you’re physically able to, it will result in injury. So, make sure to stretch before and after exercise at the gym.
- Better sleep
Since a lot of people tend to lose sleep due to back pain and stress, stretching is a wonderful solution. Back pain is usually associated with tight muscles, so stretching before bed can alleviate that pain as well as relax your mind and body, ensuring an awesome night’s sleep.
- Improved mood
Endorphins, endorphins, endorphins! This little happy chemical, which is released when you exercise, is also released when you stretch. It’s a proven fact that endorphins increase your mood immensely. So, whenever you feel like you need a pick me up, spend some time stretching and you will feel better in no time.
Stretching doesn’t just make you happier by releasing endorphins though. It also increases your long-term happiness. Stretching helps you become more flexible and tones your muscles; both of these benefits can make you look and feel better. Who isn’t in a better mood when they’re more confident?
I think we can all agree that we should stop being lazy and take the time to stretch every day. Our bodies will be sure to thank us for it!