There are many benefits to regular stretching with the most important of those being simple: being flexible will help you move freely and complete activities with greater ease.
Healthy Joints and Pain Management
As many as 28 percent of all adults report pain and stiffness in joints. That number increases dramatically with age and women are more likely to develop joint symptoms. For adults, arthritis is one of the most common conditions with 54% of people 75 years and older having been diagnosed with arthritis. Regular exercise, including regular stretching, is essential for people with arthritis to maintain function and manage joint pain. Even for those not affected by joint conditions, stretching increases joint mobility and function, and decreases joint stiffness and pain.
Pain can also be related to imbalances in the muscles. For example, if the front of your thighs and hips get too tight from a lack of flexibility, the tension will pull on the hips (where the muscles are attached). The result is the pelvis may be pulled forward and cause greater sway in your lower back. This affects your posture and can eventually lead to pain and stiffness in the neck, shoulders and lower back. Stretching regularly, for all major muscle groups/joint areas, promotes good alignment and balance.
Muscle Relaxation and Stress Relief
Staying in one position for long periods of time, repetitive movements, and other everyday stressors can result in stiff muscles and knots (also called trigger points). Regular stretching decreases anxiety, blood pressure, and breathing rate which help to relax muscles and aches and pains related to neuromuscular tension (stress). Flexibility has also been prescribed successfully to treat dysmenorrhea (painful menstruation) and to relieve muscle cramps during participation of exercise/sports.
In addition to the benefits listed above, several other benefits have been researched and characterized as good reasons maintain a regular routine of stretching:
- Increased blood flow- Blood carries vital nutrients and oxygen to muscles and tissues. Stretching increases blood flow to the muscles being stretched which may help them recover from exercise faster.
- Reduction of Future Lower Back Pain-Most experts agree (while research is still inconclusive) that counteracting the natural loss in muscle and connective tissue elasticity that occurs with aging with muscle fitness and stretching exercises can reduce your risk of developing lower- back pain.
Flexibility and Aging
For many young adults, the thought of long term flexibility can be taken for granted. For example, how hard is it to bend over and tie your shoes? How difficult is it to walk around campus with a backpack? As young adults, most of those activities are likely encountered with little pain or resistance. However, ROM declines with age. Simple things like rotating the head and neck to glance over the shoulders, getting in and out of a vehicle, or carrying groceries can be painful. Therefore, flexibility is critical to maintaining a high quality of life in older years.
The Inactivity-Mobility Cycle
If you have ever been injured to the point that required immobilization of a joint, you realize how important mobility is in relation to your overall health. Unfortunately, as joints ROM is restricted from arthritis or other injuries, activity declines. As activity declines, the ROM likely continues to suffer as a result of inactivity and the vicious cycle ensues. A simple stretching program can help alleviate this problem and help break out of the cycle.