When you increase flexibility, you increase your overall fitness
Research reports that regular stretching may be more effective in preventing injuries than occasional stretching and a review of seven out of nine studies indicates that regular stretching improves sports performance
. My motto has always been and continues to be "Stretching is for every day" (almost every day, whether we have exercised or not)!
Every day we move, bend, sit, walk (crane our necks?) and repeat the same movements during our day--this can tighten our muscles and cause what we call repetitive stress syndrome. We may even sleep in the wrong position during the night forcing our muscles to work harder to support our spine and hence wake up feeling tight and stiff.
So, for those of us who stretch occasionally, rarely or never (I hope it's not never!), here is my tip about stretching that I send out at least once a year. More of my "how-to-stretch" tips can be seen in the current June issue of Body + Soul magazine titled "Simple Stretches" with great photographs illustrating some simple but important everyday stretches to help us get started.
Why is stretching so important? Stretching increases our flexibility. Flexibility is a component of fitness. When we increase our flexibility, we help to increase our overall level of fitness AND we may possibly increase other aspects of fitness such as muscular strength and endurance (ever have a stiff joint and feel fit?).
Stretching can ease repetitive stress syndrome. This is also called overuse syndrome. Do we sit at a computer? Ever hear of carpal tunnel syndrome, or have we developed poor posture? Stretching the muscles and tendons that become tight from repetitive movements combined with a strengthening program can prevent or help heal these chronic conditions that all of us are susceptible to. Stretching slows/stops our nerves from firing. Wonder what causes a muscle spasm? Over-firing of our nerves causes the muscle to over-contract. Stretching sends a signal to our nerves to stop firing. This in turn helps our muscles to relax.
Stretching keeps our joints more limber. Each joint has a different degree of movement. This is called "range of motion." For instance, we can bend our knee backward bringing our heel to our butt, and our hip can bend in multiple directions with varying degrees. When we stretch properly, we can maintain an optimal range of movement (otherwise we get stiff, and our function is altered).
Stretching and increased flexibility can help to prevent injuries. When our joints and muscles are limber and flexible with movement through the full range, we have more balance and coordination. When we retain our flexibility, our tendons retain their elasticity which reduces inflammation and "tendonitis" injuries (who hasn't experienced tendonitis?).
Stretching can help us find muscle imbalances. When I first meet a client I assess their flexibility because I can find the muscle imbalances which we all create in daily life or sport activities. Regular stretching can help us to find and lessen these imbalances which can ultimately lead to injury.
Stretching can be a great stress reliever. We can take a time-out from stress by stretching, which is a great way to relax. Easy stretches can be done in a chair at our desk when the tension mounts. Add in a little deep breathing to increase our oxygen supply to the brain and may we find ourselves feeling and thinking better.
Do we need a recap? Stretching more often can help us to relieve muscle tension, prevent stiffness, injury and overuse syndromes. It can contribute to balance and coordination and help us to reduce mental stress. We get all this and it feels good too! Have we stretched today?