We’ve all heard it before: we need to stretch whenever we want to join in a game of football or when we go jogging. Ever since primary school, we have been taught that stretching before partaking in any strenuous physical activity is vital if we want to avoid serious injury. All the top athletes do it, but that still isn’t enough motivation for us to do it on a daily basis.
So what is the point? Why stretch? There are actually many benefits of stretching. The obvious reason – the one we’ve all been lectured about – is that stretching reduces the risk of injury during sports, and decreases pain after exercise. But do we actually know why that is? When we stretch, we circulate fresh oxygenated blood throughout the body and to your brain, which not only improves how we are capable of functioning physically and mentally, but it flushes out the unnecessary toxins in our body. As we get older, our muscles, joints, and tendons lose much of their elasticity and flexibility, so the more we stretch in our youth, the longer we can remain mobile when we age.
Stretching is also an effective stress-reliever. Your muscles store excess tensions when you are under physical or emotional stress. Stretching the stress-targeted areas serves to dispel these tensions. However, the most important reason for stretching, from an osteopath’s perspective, is to maintain your back. The back can get stiff easily because it can only move in three directions, so as the back makes up the basis our musculoskeletal system, it is important that we keep in as fluid and flexible as possible.
It is best to stretch at least three times a week, preferably in the mornings after a hot shower has warmed up your muscles, or at the end of the day, when your muscles have been warmed naturally.
Stretching is not easy, no matter what the professionals say, mainly for the reason that stretching routines become very dull. Setting up a routine is no problem – sticking to it is a different matter. The best way to ensure that you continue with your stretch routine is to make the exercises more enjoyable. Instead of going about them alone, invite a friend or relative to join your routine. Tedious activities always seem more interesting with company around. Or if you prefer to operate alone, do your stretches in front of the telly – during the news or your favourite program. This is the best way to get off the sofa, get your stretches done, and still do something you like.
Recently, there has been much debate over stretching: new experts now claim that static stretching (doing stretches standing still) can actually weaken you muscles. There is no real evidence to support this, so you are well advised to find a balance between stretches (do a few standing still, and some others by swinging your leg back and forth). It is better to do shorter stretch sessions throughout the day, instead of longer ones.
In this new age of technology, you are constantly bombarded with new medical ‘discoveries’ or tips on how to do certain things, such as stretches. While most of these are useful, it is important for you to realize what works for you, and what doesn’t. If a stretch does not work, do something different! Regardless of whether you are a top athlete or just merely trying to stay healthy, doing stretches regularly is very important for your future wellbeing.