If you’re exercising – you need to stretch. If you’re not exercising, you still need to stretch!!!
Stretching is one of the most important things to practice when it comes to general, physical well-being. A lot of people tend to think that stretching is only required when you’re involved in fitness routines or practices but the truth is – we all need to stretch. And we all need to stretch every single day.
Stretching keeps your muscles flexible, healthy and strong. This is a necessary function in the maintenance of motion range within the joints. This means that when you don’t stretch, your muscles get tighter and get shorter, which in turn increases the chances for injury, muscle damage and pain when you do move. Another thing to keep in mind before stretching is the importance of warming up. A lot of research has shown us that if you try to stretch a cold muscle, you could actually end up hurting yourself rather than loosening up your muscles! Just a few minutes of light activity will help you warm up after being static for a while. Now which parts of your body need the most stretching? Your lower parts. This is because your lower half contains the areas that are critical for mobility. Therefore, it is especially important to stretch your calves, hamstrings, hip flexors and quadriceps. You must also stretch your shoulders, neck and lower back because these areas tend to get tight easily and carry stress.
If you’re sitting at the office for 8/9 hours a day, you will notice that your hamstrings get tight and therefore, so does your lower back. You will also notice that your arms and shoulders tend to accumulate stress. With all these muscles cramped and lacking blood flow, your range of motion becomes limited and the way you walk afterwards will also be affected. (A little bonus tip, when you’re seated for hours and hours, keep your core tight to keep your back from straining itself – and avoid crossing your legs as this can also affect lower back and spine health).
Form is very important when it comes to stretching. Before you embark on your stretching journey, remember to research well or ask your local fitness trainers and physiotherapists to advise you on correct form. Incorrect form could cause further injury. When you stretch, you should feel tension – NOT pain. Do not bounce when stretching as this will cause injury – and hold your stretch for about 30 seconds while taking deep, long breaths and connecting to your tight spot with your mind.
Here are some short-term effects of stretching
When your muscles are tight, they tend to pull on other muscles connected to them and this causes an imbalance. Imbalances cause uneven distribution of stress on joints and structure, which will result in injury when put into motion.
Tensions in our body cause our brainwaves to go from calm and relaxed, to anxious. This has been proven by the mind-body connection and in classic fight or flight reflex, our bodies recognize stress as a trigger to prepare for danger. When you do stretch and release these tensions, you’ll be able to think clearer and feel a greater sense of well-being rather than being too alert.
When you stretch, more blood is able to flow to those parts of you that you are focusing on – which allows for the release of wastes and a faster, more effective recovery. Keep in mind that good quality sleep is also a big part of proper recovery.
When you stretch and focus and breathe – you automatically sink more into your body and become more in touch with yourself and your surroundings. This is the basis of a simple yoga practice too. Allowing yourself to really slow down and focus and breathe into your muscles while stretching them will help you become more aware of your surroundings.
This is an obvious one. When you release a tight muscle, you also allow for compression relief – helping your muscles go back to their proper and natural form, which in turn will allow you to move better without improper muscle imbalances affecting your movement.
Here are some long-term effects of stretching
All of your neurological responses take place in the spinal cord – that’s what connects your body and your mind and this reason alone should be enough for you to stretch your spine regularly and keep a good posture. This means that it affects the way your body reacts to internal and external factors, as well as keep your organs at optimal function.
When certain muscles are tight in your body, this affects your overall symmetry and distribution – which in the long term can cause a disproportionate frame.
Flexibility and Range of Motion
We all know by now that not stretching can affect your flexibility and range of motion – and in the long run, this will get much worse to a point of rigidity and premature aging. Not being able to move the way you once could can be a great source of frustration – and if you’re already there, don’t worry – it may take a little longer than it used to but you can get back to a decent agility with a regular stretching practice.
Long-term stretching practices will help you really get in touch with your body’s needs and movements. Becoming in tune with yourself like that is a higher quality of life that should be experienced. We’re able to live better, and give our bodies what it needs at the right time, helping to prevent illnesses – both mental and physical.
Longer Fitness Capability
This is another obvious one – the basic principle of it is this: if you don’t use your muscles, you lose them. Keep stretching, keep your muscles activated, and you’ll see that even in old-age, you will be able to do the things you do now with ease. The key is consistency.
Weight Loss and Control
Basically, to keep your metabolism high – you need as much mitochondria working as possible. To burn and use fuel in this mitochondria – you need to have muscles that are firing – and right muscles cannot fire.
There are some tips you should keep in mind while stretching. The first one is that you shouldn’t confuse stretching with a warm-up activity. Remember that in order to stretch effectively, you need to be warmed-up first. Secondly, focus first on muscles that are tight – once you loosen these up, the connecting muscles also loosen up – making it much easier to move more fluidly. Thirdly, remember that you must reduce bouncing. Bouncing while the muscle is not loose can cause small muscle tears and scar tissue which just end up keeping you tighter in the long-run.
Lastly, keep in mind that you should be stretching at the VERY least – 2/3 times per week and for at least ten minutes each. If you can make that 5-7 times a week with a minimum of 20 minutes, you’ll see some amazing improvements in your physical and mental health – not to mention – prevent any unforeseen inabilities, injuries and health conditions in the future. So do yourself a favour and just like you do in other parts of life – stay flexible, soft, and open.