Loosen Up! How Daily Stretching Can Improve Your Health.
|By Robert Bejil|
Flexibility, the proclaimed “Third Pillar” of fitness. We all try to do a quick calf stretch or two after a workout. But aside from yoga and pilates aficionados, most of us don’t get nearly enough of this excellent exercise.
It might not be the most exciting part of working out, and it’s more time consuming. Also, when I stretch, I tend to look like a baby giraffe staggering around for the first time. Sexy, I know. But long after your weightlifting bulk has faded, and you’ve run your last marathon, your body will be thanking you for keeping limber. There are over 600 skeletal muscles in your body, and spending a little time each day stretching them out can lead to a healthier and, believe it or not, longer life. Here are some benefits
Your muscles do more than just move you around, they also move your blood from your veins back to your heart. Muscles that are well hydrated and flexible keep your heart well supplied with blood. The jury seems to still be out on whether or not stretching actually aids your body in creating new vasculature (veins, arteries and whatnot) but it’s been well documented that exercising your muscles can increase the small blood vessels. Also, increasing your muscle tone and losing weight allows your heart and blood vessels to be more effective (think same amount of fluid, smaller container). If your blood flows more effectively, your heart doesn’t have to work as hard to pump it through your body.
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Well, not quite literally. Stretching doesn’t actually make you any taller as some folks used to believe. As our body gets older, our muscles lose mass and flexibility. This puts a lot of strain on our skeletons and it’s not unusual for people to lose height as they get older, sometimes several inches! Stretching can, however, improve your posture. Stress, spending hours in an uncomfortable position at work, not getting exercise, all of these things lead to tight muscles that slowly tighten your body, leading to back pain and other issues. Stretching your torso and upper body lets your back extend and stand tall. This can relieve pressure on your spine and lead to a better outcome in old age, musculoskeletally speaking. Yup, it made me so happy I invented another word.
Daily stretching improves your body in other ways. Increased range of motion will help prevent muscle and skeletal injuries. When your muscles are loose, a strain or sprain can be avoided. And your relaxed body makes you more adaptable to physical stressors.
Your lymph system is a big part of your health. If you don’t believe me, look it up. Or look it up anyway, it’s a fascinating health topic. Regularly moving your body helps keep your lymph glands clear and everything flowing like it should. This can lead to improved health and just feeling a bit better during the day. Stretching your muscles also helps release toxins that can build up through inactivity, such as sitting at your desk for long periods of time.
Stress, Stress, Stress! Yeah, I have it, you have it. It’s a common occurrence these days. Too many responsibilities, not enough hours in the day. It’s common to hear “You are what you eat” I think you could easily take that one step further and say you are how you feel. If your shoulders are tight, or your back hurts, your knees are bothering you or you have a pain in your neck, you are not going to be yourself. For all the reasons mentioned above, it’s good to take a break and stretch out for a few minutes. After a few days you might just find yourself with a little more spring in your step and a better outlook and attitude to boot. The natural energy of your body needs to flow and release just like any other body function.
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This summer, try to make the commitment to stretch out your body, even if it’s just for 5 minutes before work. Let us know how long it takes to see an improvement in your day. I’m going to keep trying, who knows, maybe one day I’ll be able to do the splits.
Jonathan Parker is an EMT-Paramedic and Preparedness Instructor with a love for emergency medicine, self-sufficiency and homesteading. His goal is to empower people towards a natural and sustainable lifestyle.