the benefits of a good s-t-r-e-t-c-h

by Kate Shapland

Cats and dogs know all about the innate benefits of a good stretch. Not so their human ‘pets’ – we don’t generally stretch enough, so we’re missing out on the benefits: increased flexibility, lymph flow and circulation – keeping you warmer for longer – better posture, less stress, body aches and more. Time to make stretching part of your morning routine?

10 BENEFITS OF STRETCHING

1. It increases your flexibility

Not only can improved flexibility help you to perform everyday activities with relative ease, but it can also help delay the reduced mobility that can come with aging.

2. It increases your range of motion

Being able to move a joint through its full range of motion gives you more freedom of movement.

One study found that both static and dynamic stretching are effective when it comes to increasing range of motion, although proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF)-type stretching, where you stretch a muscle to its limit, may be more effective for immediate gains.

3. It improves your performance in physical activities

Performing dynamic stretches prior to physical activities has been shown to help prepare your muscles for activity. It also helps improve your performance in an athletic event or exercise.

4. It increases blood flow to your muscles

Improved circulation increases blood flow to your muscles, which can shorten your recovery time and reduce muscle soreness (also known as delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS). It also keeps you warm!

5. It improves your posture

Muscle imbalances are common and can lead to poor posture. One study found that a combination of strengthening and stretching specific muscle groups can reduce musculoskeletal pain and encourage proper alignment. That, in turn, may help improve your posture.

6. It helps to heal and prevent back pain

Tight muscles can lead to a decrease in your range of motion. When this happens, you increase the likelihood of straining the muscles in your back. Stretching can help heal an existing back injury by stretching the muscles.

7. It’s great for stress relief

When you’re stressed, there’s a good chance your muscles are tense because your muscles tend to tighten up in response to physical and emotional stress.

Focus on areas of your body where you tend to hold your stress, such as your neck, shoulders, and upper back.

8. It can calm your mind

While you stretch, focus on mindfulness and meditation exercises, which give your mind a mental break.

9. It helps decrease tension headaches

Tension and stress headaches can interfere with your daily life. In addition to a proper diet, adequate hydration, and plenty of rest, stretching may help reduce the tension you feel from headaches.

10. It facilitates good venous drainage

Stretching your legs in the semi-supine position – lying flat on the floor with your legs resting at right angles against the wall – combined with controlled breathing promotes good drainage and circulation, it takes down swelling or puffiness in your lower limbs and feet, stretches your hamstrings and lower back, and it even helps improve your digestion.

Stretching techniques

    • dynamic – these are active movements that cause your muscles to stretch, but the stretch is not held in the end position. You usually do these stretches before exercise to prepare your muscles for movement.
    • static – involve holding a stretch in a comfortable position for a period of time, typically between 10 and 30 seconds. This kind of stretching is most beneficial after you exercise to help prevent injury.
    • ballistic – emulate actions specific to a sport, so improve performance and in time encourage muscles and joints to fire faster and with more force and power.
    • PNF – has proved to benefit active and passive range of motion. Athletes often supplement static stretching with PNF to help improve performance and make speedy gains in range of motion. It also improves muscle strength.
    • passive – a technique where you are relaxed and make no contribution to the range of motion, so you use a towel, band, gravity or another person to help you stretch. Often best to to do after a workout or when you feel muscle tightness. It’s said to help build strength into muscles.
    • active stretching – any kind of stretch that doesn’t involve outside force, in other words you do the stretch yourself. Active stretching helps promote blood flow to muscles – it’s great for your circulation!