We get it, there aren’t enough hours in the day and stretching can take a lot of time without offering immediate results. We live in an instant society and want to see cause and effect happen faster than it takes to click through a profile or a feed. But sadly that's not how your body works. And yet stretching is a part of the holy trinity of fitness – strength, endurance and flexibility. Movement like stretching has short- and long-term effects but it can take time to see the benefits. To get you motivated to get the most of your stretch routine here are six short-term and six long-term benefits of stretching and then maybe you will find the extra time in your week.
Six Short-term Benefits of Stretching
Injury prevention - Injuries can come from muscle imbalances. A tight muscle pulls on another muscle and the compensation to achieve equal distribution of force on the joint stresses the joint and its structure. Stretching balances the muscles and fascia and releases the tight muscle causing the poor distribution of stress. This means better body mechanics and better distribution of forces on the joint. The result? Less injuries and more time to enjoy the fruits of your more rigourous training.
Stress release - The mind-body connection has proven that when we have tension in our body our mind feels stress and our brainwaves change from calm and relaxed to anxious - think primal response and the fight or flight reflex. The body feels stress and the mind prepares for danger. If you're walking around tight, your mind is going to be more anxious and on alert than it would be if you have less body tension. Plus you’ll think clearer and feel a greater sense of well being.
Faster recovery - Stretching pumps blood into the muscles and allows for the release of wastes and tension so your recovery is quicker and more effective. Recovery isn't just about recovering from an exercise, it's also about getting the benefit of doing the exercise. Recovery is where the muscles actually change, it’s not in the moment of performing the exercise. Sleep is also part of this and stretching can help improve the quality of your sleep.
Mindfulness - Stretching allows you to sink into your body and feel. This is a major part of living in the moment. It’s also an amazing way to connect to what's happen in your body and mind plus when we get into the habit of noticing the small detail and the response in our body it translates to other parts of our lives.
Pain Relief - Feeling the burn of a workout is great but pain because a muscle pulling a joint out of alignment is not. Releasing a tight muscle releases compression in our bodies and allows us to live a pain-free life while performing everyday tasks like walking, driving or even relaxing. No one wants to live in pain. While the ouch in the muscle burn may still be present, stretching helps make the body feel good and takes pain out of the body .
The Next Day’s Workout - Stretching after a workout you will decrease the possibility of compression which takes away from range of motion and impacts your next workout. Picture a machine in motion. If the gears and buckles grind and seize, the machine can't move as fast. You are a machine and part of maintaining your moving parts is in the stretch. Moving faster and more efficiently is the goal and stretching is one way to ensure that we get better day after day.
6 Long-term Effects
Posture - Remember when parents insisted on good posture? Were they just trying to impose an old-fashioned idea on their kids or is posture important? –Logistically, the spine lifts you up and all your neurological responses take place in the spinal cord – it literally connects your body and your mind. Your immune system and nervous system is cased in that spinal cord and you want it to function properly. Most of your major organs are also encased in your rib cage, which is attached to your spine. Bad posture can impact your body's ability to react to internal and external factors. Stretching improves long-term posture by keeping balance in the back and abdominal muscles. Good posture makes breathing, digesting and even heartbeats operate properly. Long-term posture is about so much more than holding your head up straight, it’s about functioning and overall health down to the very essence of what keeps us alive. Posture is one of the most efficient anti-aging tonics.
Balance - If you build a house without balance and symmetry it will crumble. You are no different. If you have a tight muscle on one side of your body it will ultimately effect that side of your body and lead to an asymmetrical frame. Stretching can help to rebalance the body from the activities that stress one side more that the other, like carrying objects or walking unevenly.
Flexibility and Range of Motion- Flexibility is about range of motion. And that's all about how much you can use your body. What's the point of a body that can't move? Stiff, tight bodies are rigid and don't operate as well as they can. Life is about movement in all of the waking hours - not just the one or two at the gym. Plus lack of mobility leads to premature aging. It makes us feel and look different and determines our biological (rather than our chronological) age.
Body Awareness - Knowing how your body feels is a skill that takes learning and time. When we stretch, we feel things and learn things about ourselves and our movement. We become in tune with what our body likes, needs and wants. Body awareness is pretty awesome. Walking around unaware of what's happening on the inside is a half-lived life. If we’re able to connect with our bodies, we can detect and correct problems without long-term damage.
Longer Fitness Capability - As we age we lose our ability to move because we lose muscle mass which effects our mechanics. Think of your muscles of use it or lose it. Especially after the age of 40. If we stretch and move our muscles they continue to operate. Stretching will get the small muscles that don't always fire in day-to-day activities and the larger ones will operate better. By stretching the whole joint effectively you’ll get even your smallest muscles activating. This means you can exercise well into your older years without limitations or pain.
Weight Loss and Control - We don't usually think of stretching as part of weight loss but it’s all tied in. The relationship between muscle mass and weight control is integral. You stretch, you open, you release muscles that can't fire when they are tight. More muscles that fire, more muscles that burn and use fuel in the mitochondria (the weight-loss cell), which is found only in your muscle. If you want to keep your metabolism high by burning unnecessary calories you need as much mitochondria as possible. If all of those mitochondria live in your muscles you have to take care of them, use them, unlock and lengthen and be able to access as many of these as possible
So take a moment, take a breath and enjoy your stretch.