It’s common knowledge that exercise is beneficial to overall health. What might not be so obvious are the benefits of stretching before we exercise. Even though our muscles have a natural elasticity, stretching before we do any kind of strenuous activity is important. Stretching is the deliberate lengthening of our muscles in order to increase flexibility and range of motion in joints. These activities are an important part of warming up our bodies to decrease the risk of injuries and prevent muscle soreness. Stretching benefits people of all ages for rehabilitation or for exercise and overall health.
Whether we are exercising for recreation or rehabilitation, we have all heard, make sure you stretch before starting. The question is, do we really know the reasons why it’s so important? The Mayo Clinic lists five reasons why it’s important to begin your activities by stretching. First is increased flexibility and joint range of motion. Flexible muscles can improve every day performance. Everything from bending over to tie your shoes to carrying packages becomes easier and less tiring. Our flexibility tends to diminish when we get older, but through stretching it can be regained. Another benefit of stretching is improved circulation. Stretching increases blood flow to our muscles, which in turn brings nutrients to our muscle and removes waste byproducts. Improved circulation to the muscles can shorten recovery time if you have had muscle injuries. The Mayo Clinic also identifies improved posture as a benefit of stretching. Over time our muscles can get stiff, but with frequent stretching we can maintain proper posture which can minimize discomfort and keep aches and pains at a minimum. Stretching even can help with our coordination. Having full range of motion in our joints keeps us in better balance and therefore keeps us more mobile and less prone to injuries from falls (especially as we get older). Lastly, stretching can help reduce stress by relaxing tense tight muscles associated with stress.
Now that we know that stretching before activity is beneficial, it is important to know the correct way to warm up our bodies. In an article written by Laura Inverarity for About.com, there are seven steps to properly stretch. First is warm up properly by exercising for five minutes at a low intensity. Stretching when the muscles are cold increases the risk of pulled muscles. The next step is to hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds (60 seconds for a tight or problem area). It takes time to lengthen tissues safely and by doing it for at least 30 seconds you may only need to stretch that muscle once. Another important technique is not to bounce while warming up. Bouncing as you stretch can create micro tears in the muscle which in turn can lead to scar tissue making the muscle less flexible and more prone to pain. The next technique is to concentrate on making your stretch pain free. If you feel pain during your stretching you have gone too far. Back off a little until there is no pain and then hold that stretch for 30 seconds. It is also important that you relax and breathe during your activities. Also, make sure that you stretch both sides of your body so that your range of motion is equal on both sides. Lastly, make sure to stretch before and after your activities to have the maximum benefit.
Even though stretching has many benefits, there are instances when it should be avoided. People who have suffered acute muscle strains should avoid stretching until their muscle has healed. Stretching those muscle fibers can lead to further injury. Also, after breaking a bone the fracture site needs time to heal and stretching muscles surrounding that area can place stress on the bone and prevent it from healing properly as well as possibly displacing the break further. Another instance where stretching should be avoided is shortly after a joint sprain. The overstretching of ligaments in a joint and destabilize that joint. Much like fractures and breaks, this area needs time to heal and therefore stretching should be avoided.
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Kevin Cleary has been a Health Products For You contributor for many years and has a degree in marketing. His health and wellness journey has a very personal meaning and has guided him in his content writing for HPFY.
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