Benefits of Stretching
By Carolyn Hall
You may think stretching is just for athletes and hard core gym work-outs. I was a gymnast; stretching was very important for injury prevention, increased flexibility and range of motion. Body builders don’t just walk into the gym, throw some heavy weights on a bar, and start cranking out reps until they have warmed up and stretched their muscles. But, did you realize incorporating stretching daily is just as important for health and body functioning as regular exercising?
Why is that?
First, we need to look at our activity and daily schedules. My husband is either sitting in a car, sitting on an airplane, sitting behind a desk or conference room table or sitting down to corporate dinners. What does your day look like? Sitting on the drive/ride to and from work – sitting at a desk all day – sitting down to dinner-sitting down to catch your favorite sit com – sitting and working on craft projects -sitting at a volunteer committee meeting? Or perhaps you are literally on your feet all day with hardly a break – bending or twisting and using the same repetitive motions all day? My son’s day may involve laboring under the hood of a car in an awkward position trying to get to that oil pressure sensor that needs to be replaced, or spend hours under a car dropping a sub frame. I think you get the idea: our bodies are under stress. Yes, even all that sitting takes a toll on our muscles and joints.
As a result of repetitive movement patterns, improper body mechanics, and spending long periods of time seated, muscles in the body can become chronically tense, tight and contracted, causing them to become weaker, less flexible and decreasing range of motion in your joints. Regular stretching helps to improve overall function by ensuring that the body can more effectively respond to the stresses imposed by various types of movement and activity (or inactivity). Studies have shown that regularly performing static stretching can help to decrease stiffness, reduce pain levels, and may even reduce the frequency and severity of muscle cramps. ***Please note that you never want to cause yourself pain in stretching. A slight pull is acceptable as you want to carefully push yourself to gain more flexibility, but you should never be in pain!
Stretching also helps to reduce negative effects of stress. Chronic stress can produce a number of undesirable responses in the body Stretching soon after waking up can help jump-start the mind and body. It’s also an excellent idea to take time out of your day a good stretch, especially sore areas! Stretching loosens tight muscles which helps your muscles both relax and increase blood flow. It also encourages the release of endorphins, providing a sense of tranquility. Stretching directly before bed could even give you a more comfortable sleeping experience.
Although our bodies change as we grow older, consistently stretching and performing range of motion exercises can improve flexibility at any age, helping to increase longevity and enhance overall quality of life, especially when combined with good nutrition and a healthy life style.
Here are some basic stretches to get you started.
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