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Importance of Flexibility for Health

Importance of Flexibility for Health

We all know that exercise is important for our health, but what about stretching? Do you consider your stretching routine to be as important as your exercise routine? Stretching offers many benefits to the body. It improves your flexibility and range of motion, enhances athletic performance, and decreases your risk of injury. Understanding just how important stretching is for health may encourage you to place it right up there with your daily exercise routine.

 

Benefits of Stretching

 

Stretching

 

Research shows that stretching can help improve flexibility, and, consequently, the range of motion of your joints. But that’s not all stretching does. Stretching also improves your performance in physical activities, decreases your risk of injuries, helps your joints move through their full range of motion, and enable your muscles to work most effectively. Stretching also increases blood flow to your muscles.

 

Below, we’ll discuss more in depth the top benefits of flexibility.

 

  1. Being Flexible Can Help Reduce Your Risk of Injuries

 

Developing strength and flexibility in your body can help you be able to better withstand more physical stress. Additionally, flexibility helps you rid your body of muscle imbalances, which will reduce your chance of getting injured during physical activity. Correcting muscle imbalances requires a combination of strengthening the underactive muscles and stretching the overactive ones.

 

  1. Reduced Pain

 

Flexibility can help you reduce physical pain. Lengthening and opening your muscles helps your body feel better overall. When your muscles are looser and less tense, you’ll experience fewer aches and pains. You may also be less likely to experience muscle cramps.

 

 

  1. Improved Physical Posture & Balance

 

Focusing on increasing muscular flexibility helps your posture improve. Working out your body allows you to have proper alignment and can help you correct any muscular imbalances. With an increased range of motion, you may also find it easier to sit or stand in certain ways. Yoga, a practice that focuses on stretching the body, has been shown to improve balance and posture.

 

 

  1. Stretching Can Support a Positive State of Mind

 

Regularly engaging in poses that stretch and open up your body can bring about feelings of relaxation. The physical benefits of relaxation can extend to a relaxed state of mind. You may find it easier to relax and unwind once your body feels better.

 

 

  1. Being More Flexible Can Improve Your Strength

 

As you get more flexible, it is important to also increase your strength. This ensures your muscles will have the right amount of tension so that they’re strong enough to support you and your movements, enabling you to become more physically fit.

 

 

  1. Flexibility Enhances Your Physical Performance

 

Once you increase your flexibility to allow greater movement in your body, you’ll be able to perform better physically. This is partly because your muscles are working more effectively.

 

Stretching Essentials

 

Before you jump right into a deep stretch, make sure you do it safely and effectively. While you can stretch anytime, anywhere, proper technique for stretching is key. Stretching incorrectly can actually do more harm to your body than good.

 

Use these tips to keep your stretching safe:

 

  • Don't use stretching as a warmup. Many people make the common mistake of stretching as a warm up exercise. A little bit of light stretching may be okay, but deep stretches are better after your body has warmed up. You may actually hurt yourself if you stretch cold muscles. Before stretching, warm up with light walking, jogging or biking at low intensity for five to 10 minutes. Or even better, stretch after your workout when your muscles are warm.

 

  • Strive for symmetry. Make sure to focus on having equal flexibility side to side (especially if you have a history of a previous injury). Flexibility that is not equal on both sides may be a risk factor for injury. So, when you stretch your right side, stretch your left after, and vise-versa. The same applies to front and back stretches.

 

  • Focus on major muscle groups. Concentrate your stretches on major muscle groups such as your calves, thighs, hips, lower back, neck and shoulders. Make sure that you stretch both sides. Also stretch muscles and joints that you use routinely.

 

  • Don't bounce. Stretch in a smooth movement, without bouncing. Bouncing as you stretch can injure your muscle and actually contribute to muscle tightness.

 

  • Hold your stretch. Breathe normally and hold each stretch for about 30 seconds; in problem areas, you may need to hold for around 60 seconds. Focusing on your breathing can help a lot here. Breathe into the tension and try to relax the tension as you breathe out.

 

  • Don't aim for pain. Expect to feel tension while you're stretching, but not pain. If it hurts, then you've pushed too far. Back off to the point where you don't feel any pain, then hold the stretch.

 

  • Keep up with your stretching. Stretching can be time-consuming. But you can achieve the most benefits by stretching regularly, at least two to three times a week. Skipping regular stretching means you risk losing the potential benefits. For instance, if stretching helped you increase your range of motion, your range of motion may decrease again if you stop stretching.

 

  • Bring movement into your stretching. Gentle movements, such as those in tai chi or yoga, can help you be more flexible in specific movements. These types of exercises can also help reduce falls in older adults.

 

Know When to Exercise Caution with Stretching

 

You might need to adjust your stretching techniques if you have a chronic condition or an injury. If you already have a strained muscle, stretching it may cause you further harm. Talk to your doctor or physical therapist about the most appropriate way to stretch if you have any health concerns.

 

Stretches for Improving Flexibility

 

The practice of Yoga offers many great stretching techniques that can help you improve your flexibility. Practice these poses as often as possible to increase flexibility and to keep your body in good health. They can be done as part of a workout routine or on their own at any time throughout the day. Make sure your body is properly warmed up before doing any of these exercises. Do these exercises at least 4 times per week for 10–20 minutes at a time.

 

Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)

 

Downward Facing Dog

 

Muscles worked:

 

  • hamstrings
  • gluteus maximus
  • deltoids
  • triceps
  • quadriceps

 

To practice:

 

  1. Come onto all fours with your hands under your wrists and your knees under your hips.
  2. Press into your hands as you tuck your toes under and lift your knees, keeping your heels lifted.
  3. Extend through your spine and lift your sitting bones up toward the ceiling.
  4. Bend your knees slightly and press into all of the parts of your hands.
  5. Bring your head in line with your upper arms or relax your neck and tuck your chin into your chest.
  6. Focus on stretching and strengthening your body.
  7. Hold this pose for up to a minute at a time.
  8. Do the pose 3–5 times after a short rest or in between other poses.

 

Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar)

 

Sun Salutation Series

 

Sun Salutations are a series of yoga techniques that are very popular in Yoga. Sun salutations will help you to increase your flexibility, while doing them at a medium pace will also help to tone your muscles.

 

Muscles worked:

 

  • spinal extensors
  • trapezius
  • abdominals
  • quadriceps
  • hamstrings

 

To practice:

 

  1. Bring your hands together in prayer pose at the front of your chest.
  2. Inhale as you lift up your arms and bend back slightly.
  3. Exhale and hinge at the hips. Fold forward until your hands are touching the ground.
  4. Inhale to bring your right leg back to a low lunge.
  5. Inhale to bring your left foot back into Plank.
  6. Exhale to lower your knees, chest, and chin to the floor.
  7. Inhale as you lift your chest up into Cobra.
  8. Exhale to press into Downward-Facing Dog.
  9. Inhale to bring your right leg forward.
  10. Exhale to step your left foot forward into a standing forward bend.
  11. Inhale to lift up your arms and bend back slightly.
  12. Exhale and return your hands to Prayer Pose.
  13. Do 5–10 Sun Salutations.

 

Two-Knee Spinal Twist (Supta Matsyendrasana)

 

Two Knee Spinal Twist

 

Muscles worked:

 

  • erector spinal
  • rectus abdominis
  • trapezius
  • pectoralis major

 

  1. Lie on your back and bring your knees to your chest.
  2. Extend your arms to the side with your palms facing down.
  3. Slowly drop your legs down to the left side, keeping your knees together.
  4. You can use a cushion under your knees or in between your knees.
  5. Your gaze may be in any direction.
  6. Breathe deeply and focus on letting go of tension.
  7. Hold this pose for 3–5 minutes.
  8. Do the opposite side.

 

Triangle Pose (Trikonasana)

 

Triangle Pose

 

Muscles worked:

 

  • latissimus dorsi
  • internal oblique
  • gluteus maximus and medius
  • hamstrings
  • quadriceps

 

To practice:

 

  1. Bring your feet apart so they’re wider than your hips with your right toes turned to the right and your left toes slightly turned to the right.
  2. Lift your arms so they’re parallel to the floor with your palms facing down.
  3. Hinge at the right hip to extend forward, reaching out through your right fingertips.
  4. Then, lower your right hand to your leg, a block, or the floor.
  5. Extend your left arm up toward the ceiling with your palm facing away from your body.
  6. Turn your gaze to look in any direction.
  7. Hold this pose for 30 seconds.
  8. Do the opposite side.

 

Extended Puppy Pose (Uttana Shishosana)

 

Extended Puppy Pose

 

Muscles worked:

 

  • deltoids
  • trapezius
  • erector spinae
  • triceps
  • Come onto all fours in a tabletop position.
  • Bring your hands forward slightly and come onto your toes with your heels lifted.
  • Sink your buttocks halfway down toward your heels.
  • Keep your arms active and your elbows lifted.
  • Place your forehead on the floor or a blanket.
  • Hold this pose for 3–5 minutes.

 

To practice:

 

  1. Come onto all fours in a tabletop position.
  2. Bring your hands forward slightly and come onto your toes with your heels lifted.
  3. Sink your buttocks halfway down toward your heels.
  4. Keep your arms active and your elbows lifted.
  5. Place your forehead on the floor or a blanket.
  6. Hold this pose for 3–5 minutes.

 

Intense Side Stretch (Parsvottanasana)

 

Intense Side Stretch

 

Muscles worked:

  • erector spinal
  • pelvic muscles
  • quadriceps
  • hamstrings

 

  1. Stand with your right foot in front facing forward and your left foot slightly back and at an angle.
  2. The right heel should be in line with the left heel and your feet should be about 4 feet apart.
  3. Bring your hands to your hips and make sure your hips are facing forward.
  4. Slowly exhale to hinge at the hips to bring your torso forward on the right side, stopping when it’s parallel to the floor.
  5. Then, allow your torso to fold forward as you place your fingertips on the floor or on blocks on either side of your right foot.
  6. Drop your head down and tuck your chin into your chest.
  7. Press firmly into both feet and focus on dropping your left hip and torso down.
  8. Hold this pose for 30 seconds.
  9. Do the opposite side.

 

Summary

 

Regular stretching can help improve flexibility, and, consequently, the range of motion of your joints. Stretching can also improve your performance in physical activities, increase blood flow to your muscles, decrease your risk of injuries, helps your joint move through their full range of motion, and enable your muscles to work most effectively.

 

Including a regular stretching routine can help you become more flexible and can be a great way to connect to yourself and your body. You’re likely to feel more balanced and better overall once your body is more open, strong, and flexible.

 

Before you jump right into a deep stretch, make sure you do it safely and effectively. While you can stretch anytime, anywhere, proper technique for stretching is key. Also, remember to be cautious about starting a stretching program if you have a chronic condition or injury. If you have any health concerns speak to your doctor or physical therapist to decide upon the best approach.

 

 

 

References:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3975999/ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3273886/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4540085/
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28647867/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5833972/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8068839/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3193654/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3447533/

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