I need to burn calories. True, stretching is not a great calorie-burning activity. However, when there is pain and tightness in a muscle or joint, there is not much motivation to move. Less pain and tightness means it is easier (and more enjoyable) to do calorie burning activities.
I don’t have time to stretch! Stretching does not need to take a lot of time, it just needs to be done properly so your time is well spent. With stretches you can incorporate easily into your day, you gain the benefits without a lot of extra time.
I am too achy! The catch-22 is many of our daily aches and pains can be improved by proper daily stretching. Especially with conditions such as arthritis, back pain, and fibromyalgia, stretching is a foundation for managing symptoms.
I am just not flexible enough to stretch! Another catch-22! Traditional stretches are not for every body. There are many ways to modify typical stretches so they are comfortable and adaptable for any level of flexibility. You don’t need to be flexible to stretch!
It doesn’t help! Muscles have internal protection systems. When triggered, muscles tighten. If we are not paying attention to this system when we are stretching, we either miss the benefit or cause more tightness and pain. Learning proper stretching techniques is key for reaping the benefits.
I cannot get down and up off the floor! It is important to be comfortable when you stretch and find positions you can do easily so you will stretch more often and gain the benefits. If being on the floor is a barrier, you won’t stretch as often. When stretching positions are easier to do, you gain the benefits.
I heard stretching can lead to injury or weaken a muscle. Research on stretching can be confusing. Much of the research on stretching is on athletic performance instead of general health and well-being, but the news soundbites don’t make that difference clear. The general health and fitness benefits of stretching are much more clear. In my work, I have witnessed the huge benefit of stretching – especially for clients with back pain, arthritis, fibromyalgia, and more.
Beyond improving flexibility, the instant benefits of stretching are the real payoff:
- Resetting: The muscle are engineered so the fibers slide back and forth to shorten and lengthen. When the muscle contracts, the fibers overlap to get shorter. When the muscles stretches the fibers move away from each other. When we are still, like in sitting, some muscles are set in a position that is too short, and some too lengthened. In either of these positions, they are weaker. Stretching is simply resetting muscles to their resting length. At this resting length, they are ready to provide strength and force when needed.
- Cleansing: In the body, cells produce wastes and the body has systems to remove it. The lymph system is a major waste removal system in the body. Unlike the cardiovascular system that has the heart for a pump, the lymph system relies on pressure from muscle to pump lymph (and wastes) through the system to be removed. The blood vessels and lymph system are cleverly imbedded in muscles (in the photo green indicates lymph vessels). When there is no muscle movement, there is no activation to open the vessels and keep the system flowing well. Movement of muscle triggers an opening of blood and lymph vessels and helps clear these wastes. Talk about cleansing!
- True total body work: Since we have patterns of movements, not all muscles and vessels get this same benefit in everyday movement. Stretching helps us get to these areas that can get stiff and “backed-up” with waste products.
- Stress reduction: The mind body connection is a powerful two-way process. Stress in the mind causes muscle tension, which keeps the mind in overdrive. When muscles relax, it signals the brain to relax too. Stretching is a great way to rid the body, and mind of stress.
Bottom line – when we stretch a muscle:
- We are resetting muscles so they are ready to work, i.e., are stronger
- We are activating nourishment and cleansing in that area.
- Cells get what they need to grow and regenerate.
- Relaxed muscles signal the mind to calm.
Learn to stretch with proper alignment and technique and you have a tool to keep the cells of the body and mind healthy in daily life.
May You Be Well,
Janet Huehls, MA, RCEP, CHWC