One Of The Most Important Things You Can Do For Yourself!
by Melissa Upham-Strickland 2013
We all hear from our Massage Therapists, Trainers, Coaches and Physical Therapists that we need to stretch more regularly. Usually this advice comes with no explanation to justify why we should be stretching. You will find there are many benefits to stretching you may have been unaware of. Aside from giving us more flexibility stretching has numerous untold benefits such as easing digestion, lowering blood pressure and relieving joint pain. If you do nothing else for exercise, stretching is of utmost importance.
Consider that 40% of the body is made up of muscles. We have approximately 640 muscles in our bodies that hold our skeleton together and allow us to make every movement we are capable of; including breathing, digesting food, making our heart beat and even orgasm! There is not a single movement we are capable of without the assistance of at least 5 muscles.
We have all heard that stretching elongates the muscles and increases flexibility. But what good does that really do for us? Well for starters, when muscles get too tight they begin to pull on the joint capsules causing pain and discomfort in the muscle and/or joint. If left for too long they eventually pull the bones out of place resulting in chronic pain, bursitis, tears or repetitive stress injuries. Muscles can refer pain on a deep level into the bones causing it to feel as though the pain is actually originating from the bone. Stretching gives the muscle more length, which in turn allows more movement in the joints. The more often you stretch, the longer the muscle becomes and the more flexible you become; allowing you to experience more Range of Motion in the joint.
While stretching you also increase the blood flow and oxygen to the muscle fibers. As you lengthen the fibers of the muscle, you open up places that have been cramped, blocked or pinched off. The cells that have been neglected of blood flow suddenly open and allow the blood to pour in. This is why you feel your heart rate increase when you stretch, because there is an increased demand for more blood into the muscles fibers. The increased heart rate resulting from stretching burns more calories, reduces blood pressure and reduces stress.
When stretching tight muscles you become acutely aware of your breathing. Sometimes when muscles are really tight it can be hard to stretch without breathing through it. You will find the more you breathe the farther you will be able to stretch. When you breathe, you supply much needed oxygen to those deprived muscle fibers and cells that have been cut off for a while. Therefore, you will also experience an immediate increase in energy upon stretching due to the sudden influx of blood and oxygen not only to the muscles, but to your heart and lungs as well.
Stretching before a workout is important for helping to prevent injury; however, stretching after a workout is even more important. Your muscles grow larger from working out due to micro-tears in the fibers of the muscle belly. Once the micro-tears occur the inflammation response kicks in and scar tissue is immediately formed around the micro-tears. Stretching after a workout provides immediate blood flow and oxygenation to the cells in the fibers of the torn muscles, producing quicker repair and remodeling of the muscles as well as immediate relief from the pain of the micro-tears and the tightness of the scar tissue. Thus allowing your body to bounce back faster.
Stretching also elongates the spine, providing an influx of blood and oxygen into the Central and Peripheral Nervous System as well as the brain. This creates a sensation of increased awareness and alertness, almost like a high.
As you can see stretching is of great importance to every cell of your being. Add a regular stretch routine into your daily activities and see how much better it makes you feel. If you can’t make the time to do it every day, stretch at least three times a week for optimum results. You will be happy you did.