Have you stretched today? I think everyone knows that stretching is good for the body. But do we know why? I was reading some articles about stretching and I thought I would share a couple of things that I’ve been learning. I couldn’t believe what I was learning, the body is amazing!
What is stretching?
Before we get too far let’s talk a bit about the different types of stretching. We are all most familiar with static stretching, the “bend down and touch your toes” stretch. When you hold that position it is known as a static stretch. Any time you hold a stretch position you are doing a static stretch. Dynamic stretching is the act of bringing a joint through its full range of motion without stopping. My favorite example of dynamic stretching is shoulder circles. The shoulder joint is brought through the range of motion, but you never stop. It’s still a stretch because you’re hitting the limits of your range of motion but you simply keep moving through. There are other categories of stretching but for today we will stick to these.
How does stretching prevent injury?
The idea behind stretching is to increase flexibility. Increased flexibility in turn aids in mitigating injury to the joints. In the hope to help you understand how this works, I want you to Imagine the difference between a rubber band and a piece of thread. When a quick force is applied to a thread if the force is great enough it will snap or tear the thread. When a force is applied to a rubber band the rubber band stretches and comes back to its original shape. Although this is not a perfect example of what happens in the body it helps us get an image in our head about flexibility. Injury to joints occurs when force is applied to that joint more than its ability to withstand. Sudden force is often the mode of injury such as in a jumping or falling. Increased flexibility of the joints will often decrease the likelihood of injury. In my mind, this is all that is going on when we stretch but I was surprised to learn that there is much more going on.
Anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, angiogenic, and more!
Just last year there was a major review of the literature done on stretching to see what benefits are being shown with stretching. I got five major takeaways from this article
Decrease local and systemic inflammation. We have talked about inflammation before and how it gets a bad wrap because it is our body’s initial response to an injury and is therefore generally beneficial. However chronic inflammation is not fun to deal with and nor is systemic inflammation, and we’re learning that simply by stretching we can reduce those inflammatory markers. This means a reduction in the cardinal signs of inflammation: swelling, heat, altered function, redness, and pain. What a quick and easy way to reduce all those issues going on. Probably the cheapest anti-inflammatory out there too, all you’ve got to do is reach for your toes.
In this study they talk about the potential for anti-cancer benefits from stretching and how these benefits are related to a decrease in inflammation. That is one of the most exciting things I’ve heard about stretching ever!
Increase angiogenesis, angiogenesis is the term that describes new vascular growth. So when you stretch out an area the blood flow improves to that area which in turn brings more nutrition to the area and removes more waste from the area.
Improved immune function, this study referenced another study that looked at immune function post 90 minutes of yoga and they found significant differences between the individuals doing yoga and their control. Get some stretching in to boost your immune system.
Exercise releases endorphins that improve your mood. Stretching like all exercise is just a form of movement. When we move endorphins are released that improve mood. When your mood improves better choices are easier to make, this makes for an upward spiral leading to healthier and happier choices all because you took some time to stretch.
Stretch! it’s free and loaded with benefits!
All that being said, get some stretching in! Move your bones, push your joints through their range of motion and experience some of the benefits that are just there for your taking!