Stretching is an important component of physical fitness. You may already know stretching regularly can enhance your flexibility, but it has other benefits too, like decreasing your risk of injury and improving overall health. Let’s take a look at five benefits of stretching:
Decreased risk of injury
When people talk about warming up before a workout, they’re really talking about stretching. Because stretching temporarily increases your range of motion by warming your joints, tendons, and muscles, it decreases the chance you overextend yourself when exercising. Stretching after exercise can also keep your body loose and increase blood flow to your muscles, reducing muscle soreness and the time it takes for you to recover after a workout. But even if you’re not exercising, the permanent flexibility bonus that comes with stretching regularly also reduces the odds you injure yourself by making a sudden move in your day to day.
One of the top benefits of stretching regularly is better posture. Many things may contribute to poor posture, including muscle imbalances that can be redressed via stretching. A study published in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science found for people with sedentary lifestyles, a combination of strengthening and stretching specific muscle groups could help encourage proper alignment and lower their musculoskeletal pain — particularly in the lower back, mid back, and shoulders.
Stretching improves the range of motion of your joints — otherwise known as flexibility. Crucially, this is not just a short-term improvement; depending on how regularly you stretch, it can be a lifetime advantage. According to physical therapist and strength coach Ravi Patel, stretching diligently about five to six days a week will lengthen your muscles and thus improve your range of motion. This is beneficial not only because of the practical benefits of being more flexible, but also because it can delay the reduced mobility that tends to come with aging.
Stretching generally reduces aches and muscle tension. Tense muscles can cut off their own circulation, preventing access to essential nutrients and oxygen. Stretching promotes circulation and allows your muscles to relax. Additionally, when you spend a lot of time in a single position — such as sitting down at the computer or in a car — your muscles shorten adaptively (your hip flexors, in the aforementioned example about sitting). This is what leads to muscles feeling tight. Stretching those muscles can bring back their flexibility, combating tightness and the achiness that comes with it.
Upgraded physical performance
If you are pushing the limits of your body in exercise or competition, stretching can enhance your physical performance. Exercise physiologist John Ford says warming your muscles with dynamic stretches improves the mind-muscle connection. This is important because in addition to preparing your muscles for activity, merely thinking about the muscles you are attempting to activate can help you use them more efficiently and effectively during your workout.
Stretching comes with a number of positive health benefits, but it is possible to stretch incorrectly and at the wrong time. Stretching should be done in measured doses and should never be painful. Consult with your doctor, physical therapist, or sports medicine specialist before attempting to incorporate a new stretching routine into your life.