Happy, Healthy Body – Benefits of Stretching
Do you make the time to stretch? Why is stretching so important? I wondered the same thing and researched what the experts say about the matter. According to Harvard Health, “it’s not enough to build muscle and achieve aerobic fitness. You need to think about flexibility, too. 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.” They then gave a really good example emphasizing the importance of stretching. A lot of us sit in a chair for long hours each day which results in the tightening of our hamstrings in the back of our thighs. This makes it harder to straighten the leg, or even knees, which can inhibit our range of motion. Tight muscles can then become damaged during strenuous exercise from suddenly being stretched.
Don’t let the thought of stretching all the muscles in your body overwhelm you. David Nolan, a physical therapist at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital, 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.” He also gives crucial advice regarding when to stretch your muscles, before or after a workout. “When everything is cold, the fibers aren’t prepared and may be damaged. If you exercise first, you’ll get blood flow to the area, and that makes the tissue more pliable and amenable to change.” You don’t necessarily have to stretch after a full workout, even a quick 5 to 10 minute warm up will suffice. Remember, feeling some tension during a stretch is OK, but pain is not.
Want more benefits of stretching? 1. It increases blood circulation and helps your muscles recover from your workout. This ultimately helps reduce tight muscles and muscle soreness. 2. It helps reduce anxiety and manage stress. Well-stretched muscles hold less tension and, therefore, can help you feel less stressed. It may even help prevent headaches if you regularly stretch your neck muscles. 3. It decreases the risk of low-back pain. Flexibility in the hamstrings, hip flexors and muscles attached to the pelvis relieves stress on the lumbar spine, which in turn reduces your risk of low-back pain. 4. It can help improve digestion by increasing blood flow to the bowels, reduce inflammation and gastritis, and strengthen the intestines. 5. It can help improve posture by stretching the muscles of the lower back, shoulders and chest helping keep your back in better alignment.
All the evidence shows that taking a few minutes out of your day to stretch can bring many benefits, contributing to a happy, healthy body!