6 Amazing Health Benefits Of Stretching | How To Stretch Muscles To Improve Flexibility

health benefits of stretching

Why You Should Stretch?

Research suggest that stretching exercises improves functional mobility in life, and particularly with aging can help you maintain function as well. (1Apart from this, there are so many other health benefits that stretching regularly provides. Much of the research on stretching revolves around sports performance, but stretching is important to maintain ease of movement in daily life not just sport.  There is a saying that if you don't use it you lose it. And this is true for joint range of motion. If you drop a pen and it rolls under a table, is it difficult for you to squat down, bend over on to your knees and reach for that pen? If your answer is yes to any of these movements, then adding a stretching regimen to your life may be of use to you. Keep reading to find out benefits of stretching and how to properly stretch.

Health Benefits of Stretching?

1. Decrease Pain 
A systematic research review of 8 studies on myofascial pain indicated that exercise has a positive effect on myofascial pain and a combination of stretching and strengthening exercise may achieve the best results. (2)

2. Improves Posture
Multiple studies have shown a link between stretching and improving posture. (3) (4) (5) (6)Stretching and strengthening of the upper trunk, shoulder and neck muscles may help improve forward head posture. Stretching of the hamstrings and hips may improve pelvic and lumbar alignment. 

3. Improves Flexibility(7)
In a systematic research review, it was found that a 4 week stretching routine may significantly improve range of motion of joints. (1)

4. Decreases Risk Of Injury
Research suggest that decreased muscle flexibility from normal ranges may predispose athletes to injury. (8)(9)As stretching has been shown to increase flexibility, incorporating a stretching routine may decrease ones risk of injury. It must be noted that acute static stretching prior to activity has not been linked to injury prevention. In a systematic review of 11 research articles it was proposed that sport-specific stretching programs that contained exercises specific to muscle groups at high risk for injury appear to be the most effective way to reduce injury risk. (10)

5. May Decrease Soreness and Improve Recovery From Exercise
A systematic research review revealed that stretching post exercise produced a small reduction in muscle soreness. (11) Another study conducted on national level basketball players found that a combination of massage and stretching resulted in lower perception of leg soreness in women. (12However more quality research is needed on this subject as the decrease in soreness was found to be statistically insignificant.

6. Decrease Stress, Particularly When Paired With Mindful Breathing (13)
Increased mindfulness has been linked with both yoga and a decrease in stress in numerous studies. Yoga practice "demonstrated a mediation of cortisol on perceived stress." Cortisol is a hormone, and increased levels in the body are tied to increased levels of stress. A systematic research review showed positive feelings increased after 46 minutes of yoga practice. The research suggest that yoga practice may changes ones attitudes towards stress viewing stress and life in a more positive light as well as increases ones coping mechanisms to deal with stressors more effectively to reduce stress. Research also suggested that practice of calming "yogic" breath is another way in which yoga can improve post-traumatic stress symptoms.

How To Stretch Properly For Best Results

There are different types of stretching which should be used for different reasons. The types of stretching include PNF stretching, passive(static) stretching, dynamic stretching, and ballistic stretching.(14) No matter the type of stretching one preforms, no one should ever stretch to the point of pain. You should only feel a slight discomfort when stretching. While stretching, it is important to focus on your breathing to tune into your body and allow your muscles to relax and slowly lengthen. 
  •  PNF stretching is typically performed with a partner, where the muscle being stretch is contracted and relaxed while the partner is resisting the movement of the muscle. This type of stretching is good to improve ROM and often used for healing muscle tissue. 
  • Passive stretching is the same as static stretching where one holds a elongated position of the muscle for a period of time. Passive stretching can be done alone, are one can get assistance from another person or object to maintain the position. Passive stretching is best performed after a workout for recovery or as apart of a daily stretching program.
  • Dynamic stretching is controlled active movement of a muscle throughout its range of motion at a joint. Dynamic stretching is great to help your muscles warm up for exercise.
  • Ballistic Stretching is performed at the end range with repetitive bouncing. This type of stretching as been linked to increased injury risk.

To Increase flexibility the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends that one should engage in a stretching routine a minimum of 2-3 times a week, though DAILY stretching will give better improvements of flexibility long term. Each muscle stretched should be held from 30-60 seconds. I personally stretch each muscle group 3 times for 30 seconds each time, and this is what I recommend to my patients as well. 

Tools To Help You Stretch Better

Stretching Mat: You can invest in a stretching mat to help stretching be more comfortable for certain positions. And to protect your skin for laying on the floor.

yoga mat

Stretching Strap: A stretching strap can help you achieve deeper stretches more comfortable if you don't have anyone to assist you and can take of stretch from you shoulders when holding positions. 

stretching strap

Yoga Block: A yoga block can help support your back, hips, head or arms to assist you to ease into positions as you start learning yoga positions to more comfortably get into the positions.

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