Stretching is more than an indispensable exercise tool for relieving muscle soreness and stiffness. Coaches and physical therapists, even medical doctors, recommend stretching routines for everything from sports conditioning to stress management. Eastern countries embrace yoga and tai chi -- stretching philosophies now popular in the West, to bridge the mind-body divide, yet you wonder why stretching feels great. Speak with a doctor before engaging in a serious stretching routine or practice.
Stretching increases flexibility, relaxes your mind and body, and prepares you for the day's stressors. Do overhead stretches before clamoring out of bed in the morning, and follow with an energizing post-shower routine. Adding muscle flexibility -- regardless of the time of day, reduces muscle injuries and lessens the stress normal activities place on your joints. Keep stretches fluid and hold each for 30 seconds without jerky, bouncy movements. Moving while stretching causes tears within your muscles. Instead of gaining flexibility, you'll only end up in pain.
Stretching has a meditative side effect, as it has the potential to lower stress and tension. Eastern stretching practices such as yoga rely on the mind-body connection to meld stretching and stress-relieving poses into a unified practice. Poses help with anxiety, improve your sleep pattern and manage chronic health conditions, among other benefits, according to the MayoClinic.com. Tai chi -- a Chinese form of martial arts stretching -- involves a series of slow and controlled movements. Tai chi is similar to yoga in that, depending on your fitness level, it has different forms to choose from. Stretching with tai chi feels good because, like yoga, the practice aids the sleeping process, lowers stress and improves energy and your overall health.
Stretching sends blood throughout your muscles -- to the tiny capillaries, into the larger veins and onto the muscle fibers. This helps prevent tissue damage and efficiently removes lactic acid as the chemical builds up during normal activity, especially after exercise, according to one stretching theory. The American Council on Exercise, or ACE, agrees that stretching gets your blood flowing. According to ACE, stretching helps vital nutrient-enriched blood reach your muscles, tissues and organs in an efficient manner. Stretching also reduces the time it takes for your body to rebound after exercising and heal from exercise-induced injuries
Stretching shouldn't produce pain. When pain happens, it means you've stretched too far. You don't need to come out of the stretch, though; just lessen it. Ease out of the stretch until you feel a slight tightness or burn in the muscle, but no longer feel pain. Whether you remain in a stretch for 10 seconds or 30 seconds, save the jitters for later. Breathe calmly and stay still while holding each stretch, and stretch both sides for an equal amount of time.
- American Council on Fitness: ACE’s Top Ten Reasons to Stretch
- American Council on Exercise: Flexible Benefits
- MayoClinic.com: Stretching: Focus on Flexibility
- MayoClinic.com: Yoga: Fight Stress and Find Serenity
- MayoClinic.com: Tai Chi: A Gentle Way to Fight Stress
- Stretching Basics; Roberto Maccadanza
- Jet: Stretch Your Way To Fitness Success
- Kids Health: Stretching