Firstly, what is stretching…. In simple terms it is when a we deliberately flex or stretch a specific muscle in order to improve the muscle’s elasticity.

The result is a feeling of increased muscle control, flexibility, and range of motion. It is also used to improve function in daily activities by increasing range of motion.

Why do we stretch in a morning?

Have you noticed in a morning when you awake that you just can’t help but stretch, but why do we instinctively do this after sleeping?

It’s an animal instinct after a prolonged time of inactivity for example sleeping for 8+ hours, your muscles lose tone and fluid tends to pool along your back. Stretching helps to massage fluid gently back into the normal position. It’s also a gentle transition from sleep to wakefulness for the rest of the body as well.

When we stretch it helps work out any stiffness or tightness in our muscles and joints caused by spending an extended amount of time in a single position. In the long term, this helps maintain a wide range of mobility and flexibility.

What are the Benefits of stretching?

We all know that stretching is good for you, but most of us rarely stretch and I’m talking about stretching daily not just after exercise or stretching if we feel a slight ache or pain, so let’s talk about the benefits of stretching and this may encourage you to start a daily stretching ritual;

  1. Decreases muscle stiffness and increases range of motion
    Stretching helps improve your range of motion, which may also slow the degeneration of your joints.
  2. May reduce your risk of injury
    A flexible muscle is less likely to become injured if you have to make a sudden move. By increasing the range of motion in a particular joint through stretching, you can decrease the resistance on your body’s muscles during various activities.
  3. Helps relieve post-exercise aches and pains
    After a hard workout, stretching your muscles helps keep them loose and lessens the shortening and tightening effect that can lead to post-workout aches and pains.
  4. Improves posture
    Stretching the muscles of the lower back, shoulders and chest helps keep your back in better alignment and improves your posture
  5. Helps reduce or manage stress
    Well-stretched muscles hold less tension and, therefore, can help you feel less stressed.
  6. Reduces muscular tension and enhances muscular relaxation
    Chronically tense muscles tend to cut off their own circulation, resulting in a lack of oxygen and essential nutrients. Stretching allows your muscles to relax.
  7. Improves mechanical efficiency and overall functional performance
    Because a flexible joint requires less energy to move through a wider range of motion, a flexible body improves overall performance by creating more energy-efficient movements.
  8. Prepares the body for the stress of exercise
    Stretching prior to exercise allows your muscles to loosen up and become better able to withstand the impact of the activity you choose to do.
  9. Promotes circulation
    Stretching increases blood supply to your muscles and joints, which allows for greater nutrient transportation and improves the circulation of blood through your entire body.
  10. Decreases the risk of low-back pain
    Flexibility in the hamstrings, hip flexors and muscles attached to the pelvis relieves stress on the lumbar spine, which in turn reduces your risk of low-back pain.

Why is it important to stretch?

Stretching keeps the muscles flexible, strong, and healthy, and we need that flexibility to maintain a range of motion in the joints. Without it, the muscles shorten and become tight. Then, when you call on the muscles for activity, they are weak and unable to extend all the way. That puts you at risk of joint pain, strains, and muscle damage.

For example, if you have a desk-based job and you find yourself sitting in a chair all day this will results in tight hamstrings in the back of the thigh, as a result of this it will make it harder for you to extend your leg or straighten your knee all the way, which inhibits walking. When tight muscles are suddenly called on for a strenuous activity that stretches them, such as hill walks, unsteady terrain, they may become damaged from suddenly being stretched as the muscles may not be strong enough to support the joints, which can lead to joint injury.

I have witnessed this from a close family member who leads a very sedentary lifestyle (drives to work, sits in an office all day, drives home and then spends the evening sitting down watching television). As you can see there is zero activity or exercise which ultimately results in the above happening. While out on a walk with friends on unsteady terrain her ankle gave way and ended up in a fall, this caused great damage and meant that she couldn’t move for 6 weeks. I have now given her a routine to do which includes daily stretching and functional daily activity exercises.

Why is stretching so important as we get older and throughout your life?

As we get older our bodies have a tendency to degenerate. We lose our skin’s elasticity, our muscle tone, and bone density. Also, the water content in our tendons decreases and as a result, our tendons get stiffer. All these factors can contribute to the natural decrease in our flexibility. As a result of all these factors it can also lead to poor balance and therefore the risk of falling increases.

This is why it’s so important to not only stretch daily but to stay active to maintain joint flexibility at all ages but more so as we age, if we stop moving it can negatively impact our quality of life, and limit you from doing what you love most.

So, if you are wondering if it’s possible to become more flexible as we age then the answer is YES, so why not get started straight away. If you are struggling on what stretches to do to start a routine, there is a wealth of knowledge online take a look at the NHS website to start with.

If you are looking for a more personalised stretching programme then you could ask fitness professionals for advice and routines for example physiotherapist, personal trainers and fitness instructors.

How you can incorporate it in your daily routine?

Stretching once in a while wont magically work, you need to stretch on a daily basis to reap the rewards and feel the benefits. I have found the easiest way to do this is to create a routine, try and do it at the same time every day probably first thing in a morning or last thing before you go to bed would be the best time. Ensure you have the correct space and make it comfortable whether you have a soft rug or yoga mat and create the right ambiance with mood lighting.

Please remember that it takes more than two months and up to 12 weeks for something to become a habit or ritual so don’t give up after the first hurdle. If you think every day is not realistic and you choose to do it 5 days per week and have the weekend off that is fine, do whatever works for you. Once it is ingrained in your daily life then you won’t even realise you are doing it and hopefully it will become something you enjoy and look forward to on a daily basis.

So, reawaken your muscles and energise your body start your daily stretching routine today! ?