For many, 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.
It’s no secret that stretching can be a total game-changer when it comes to movement and flexibility. But, did you know that giving your body some dedicated stretch time is one of the best ways to ease joint pain, improve blood flow, and even relieve stress, too?
You may think of stretching as something performed only by runners or gymnasts. But we all need to stretch in order to protect our mobility and independence. A lot of people don't understand that stretching has to happen on a regular basis. It should be daily.
As we age, we start to realize that flexibility is a skill. It affects how we move everyday from doing simple tasks such as getting in and out of the car, tying your shoes, bending or reaching over to pick something up. Stretching promotes flexibility and helps your joints maintain a healthy range of motion.
Flexibility is an important part of fitness and overall health. Daily activities would be much more challenging without the ability to bend over, twist, or squat. By incorporating a stretching program into your daily routine, you can increase your flexibility and range of motion. You can also improve performance in sports and daily tasks. Stretching can help prevent injury and decrease pain associated with muscle tightness.
Completing a daily full body stretch routine can benefit a person’s physical and mental well-being. Stretches can be either static, where the person holds a still position, or dynamic, meaning that the person carries out the stretch while moving. A daily stretch routine may incorporate both static and dynamic stretches.
Stretching is one of those things that tends to get dropped to the bottom of people’s healthy to-do lists, but adding it to your daily routine can be highly beneficial. Stretching after you exercise can help move inflammation out of your muscles and increase blood flow. Spending time lengthening your limbs also has mental benefits. Going through a series of stretches can reduce stress and cortisol levels.
While the best time to stretch is when muscles are warm—say, after a walk or a workout—stretching is so beneficial that whenever you can squeeze it in, you should. Stretching can be mildly uncomfortable at first, but it should not be painful. An individual stretch will typically last 10–30 seconds. It can help to repeat a stretch routine, as it becomes easier to extend the muscles once they have properly loosened up.
Why is stretching so important?
We all know how important stretching is before or after exercise, but there are actually benefits that go beyond workout safety. 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.
It's true that stretching is neither glamorous nor hardcore, and it probably won't give you the same rush that a run or HIIT class will. However, you can’t just do strength training and cardio without putting yourself at risk for injury and pain. By doing a ton of work that contracts the muscles (which shortens them) and never stretching (lengthening) them, your muscles will end up imbalanced. Imbalances in the body increase your risk for injury because they can cause some muscles and joints to overcompensate for other ones that are too tight to engage properly. This leads to strains and discomfort.
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Also, when your muscles are loose and stretchy, they're less restricted. This allows you to move them wider a full range of motion (ROM). For example, greater range of motion in your hips and knees will allow you to sink deeper into a squat.
Where to start?
With a body full of muscles, the idea of daily stretching may seem overwhelming. But 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.
Knee to Chest Stretch
Lunging Hip Flexor Stretch
Lunge With Spinal Twist
Always be cautious not to lock the joints during a stretch. Doing this can cause hyperextension, where the joints extend beyond their normal limits, increasing the risk of injury. If a stretch is painful, do not force the movement. Instead, stop and rest to avoid the risk of a sprain or strain. Avoid bouncing during stretches, as this can increase the risk of injury. It is important to keep good posture during each stretch.
Stretching for only a few minutes a day can be beneficial and allow you to keep your normal range of motion throughout your life. Incorporating stretches will help to improve your flexibility and ward off back pain and poor posture in the future. Stretching keeps the muscles loose, which lowers the chance of sprains and strains.
People should see a doctor or physical therapist if stretching causes pain, as this may indicate an underlying problem.
About the authors
Madur & Anitha Jagannath are certified Nutrition Consultants, in addition to their professions in technology and human resources. When Madur started feeling lethargic and slowing down, he started exercising regularly, became conscious of healthy eating habits and nutrition. He is an avid runner and does half-marathons often. At Voyage to Wellness, they attribute our reputation to the lasting customer relationships they have developed throughout the years. They believe in health & wellness and being fit, at all stages of people's lives.
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