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Why stretching improves your overall health

Many people suffer from aches and pains associated with stress and muscle tension. But what they may not know is that their discomfort can be alleviated by taking a few minutes to stretch. 

Stretching is a vital tool for relaxing muscles and reducing stress, which is important for all aspects of good health. It eases lower back pain, increases flexibility and has many other benefits, yet it is a healthy practice that is frequently neglected. 

People typically associate good health with positive lifestyle choices – avoiding smoking, alcohol and drugs, a nutritious diet and exercise to include cardiovascular and muscular workouts. They overlook stretching or may associate it with an activity reserved for athletes (although even athletes can neglect stretching before and after workouts, missing the benefits of stretching and potentially risking injury).

As we age, flexibility continues to decrease, increasing the risk of falling and sustaining debilitating injury. The only way to improve and maintain flexibility is by doing stretching exercises routinely. 

The many benefits of stretching:

  • Increases circulation so there is greater blood flow and supply of nutrients to muscles and cartilage. This reduces muscle stiffness and will help make your day-to-day life more comfortable. 
  • Improves flexibility and increases range of motion, reducing risk of injury and enabling you to keep better balance. 
  • Helps alleviate lower back pain. Stretching is an excellent way to strengthen the lower back muscles, alleviating soreness and pain. Since many muscles (quadriceps, hamstrings, lower back muscles and hip flexors) contribute to your posture, stretching these muscles can greatly reduce or eliminate lower back pain.
  • Reduces stress. Stress causes your muscles to contract and become tense, which can have negative effects on just about every part of your body. Gentle stretching exercises relax tense muscles associated with stress. 
  • Improves mood. Since stretching is an exercise, it has the same endorphin-boosting effects, improving your mood and the way you feel in general.
  • Improves posture
  • Enhances sports performance.  Improves arm and shoulder extension and rotation for swimmers and basketball players, create longer strides for runners, enables deeper knee bends and hip flexion for skiers. 
  • Makes travel more comfortable because of the ability to sit in many different positions in confined spaces 

You can live a more comfortable daily life just by incorporating stretching, and it can easily become a part of your daily routine with very little effort.  So, plan some time to stretch, whether it be a set time in the morning and evening or by taking sporadic work breaks throughout your work day.

Where to start:

  • If you have never done stretching exercise, get advice to avoid injury. Check with your doctor or health professional before stretching if you have an injury, are unsure of how to stretch properly or have had a previous injury.
  • Warm up your muscles before stretching. Try 10 minutes of gentle exercise like walking. Stretching cold muscles may result in injury.
  • Hold a sustained stretch for 10 to 30 seconds. Don’t bounce when stretching. Overstretching causes muscle to contract and can cause small tears in fibers.
  • Only stretch to the point of mild discomfort. Once your muscle feels comfortable, increase the stretch then hold it again. If it hurts, you’re pushing too hard. 
  • Breathe normally when stretching. Don’t try to hold your breath or perform special breathing exercises.
  • Balance your routine. Work opposing muscle groups each time you stretch. If you start by stretching the muscles in the back of your thigh, then follow by stretching the muscles at the front.
About Stephen Grindel DO

Stephen Grindel, DO, is a family physician  in Wichita, Kansas.