Easy Lifestyle Modifications to Improve Health (Stretching)
By Dr. Edwin Chun, CPT III, Lifestyle Nutritionist
One of the easiest things everybody can do to increase their health is to incorporate daily stretching into their lifestyles. Stretching your body regularly has many benefits and is very easy to perform. It doesn’t involve anything other than yourself and can be performed anywhere you feel comfortable within minutes (about 8 minutes).
As our bodies age and undergo the effects of work and physical activities, our muscles have a tendency to tighten up and shorten. So it is important to stretch them out to restore them to the correct length and tone. This is specifically important for things like muscle tendons that affect the joints of the body.
If the muscles are either weak and lax from such factors as chronic injury, lack of exercise, or age, or too tight from something like an acute injury or increased intense physical activity or exercise, it is possible that the muscle tendons (muscle attachments to bones) will not glide correctly in and around the joints in their natural positions.
The effect is like a bridge with the cables drawn too tight or too loose. The natural position is altered and negatively affected which if not corrected will go on to create further accelerated degeneration in the joints and muscles. These negative effects may not allow the muscles and joints to perform their optimum dynamic functions.
What are some common benefits of stretching?
- Improving range of motion of your joints (neck, back, hips, shoulders etc.) Basically increased flexibility. This means being able to easily raise your arm, bend over, look over your shoulder, lift your leg, etc. So stretching does improve dynamic functions immediately which is great for sports!
- Preventing further injury. Stretching along with deep breathing allows more oxygen into the muscles and warms them up allowing the muscles to prepare for greater stress that will be placed upon them while preventing injury. This is especially important when exercising and you have higher levels of lactic acid present. Even when recovering from injury, correct stretching functions like exercise and will strengthen injured muscles.
- Enhanced recovery. Stretching increases healing in muscles that are recovering. This is more important when muscles are injured and or recovering from strenuous work out. Stretching increases inflammatory waste removal from the muscle tissue, like lactic acid. Even when suffering from injury, proper stretching will increase healing.
- Improved mental state. Stretching allows the muscles to become engaged and stimulated which positively affects the brain.
- Better posture and body alignment. Regular stretching teaches your body to have better posture. Tight muscles do not allow for the proper functioning of tendons on joints.
- Less pain. When muscles are too tight or in a weakened state (i.e. injury) stretching will decrease pain in the muscles by restoring proper muscle tone.
What you need
All you need is to understand how to stretch each muscle. You can stretch multiple muscle groups together by utilizing dynamic poses. You can look at yoga and get a ton of excellent poses and positions.
You do need to be patient and take your time. Stretch each muscle for at least 30 seconds up to a minute or a bit longer if you are doing something like yoga. Also be sure to involve deep breathing to further lengthen the muscles and increase oxygen into the muscle and waste removal out of the muscle.
Take your time with it to get the most benefit. Never rush or force the stretch as it may cause the opposite effect and create a muscle spasm. Perform the motions slowly in a relaxed manner to get the correct benefit.
10 minutes for a pre-workout stretch or daily wellness stretch is great. You will really begin seeing the benefit when performed regularly. Be well!