stretchingStretching is not just something we should be doing before or after exercise, although this is a crucial time to do so. Tendons, muscles, ligaments, and cartilage get stiff from inactivity, and stretching has many benefits that few people appreciate. Routine stretching helps preserve the musculoskeletal connections we depend on for comfort and mobility.

Stretching stimulates the senses, improves circulation and helps the body relax. When we stretch, we help our bodies let go of tension in our muscles, we breathe deeply, we focus for a few brief moments on our state of mind. Vital nutrients and synovial fluid lubricates our joints and tissues, increasing our range of motion.

We may not even be aware of tension being held in our joints until we find relief by employing a sustained stretch routine. The long-term benefits are worth considering. An estimated 20 million Americans suffer from osteoarthritis, a disease that affects the joints with painful inflammation and decreased mobility.

Physical activity that includes proper stretching builds and maintains strong muscle groups that ensure our joints are well supported when we’re in motion. In fact, many of the various forms of arthritis can benefit from such good habits that we incorporate into our daily lives. Flexibility training is part of a comprehensive strategy proscribed by doctors to improve the symptoms of those suffering from joint disorders.

In addition, therapeutic exercise that includes sensible stretches helps reduce the need for medications in patients recovering from fractures, sprains, and joint-related injuries. This is one of the reasons why yoga is so successful at increasing flexibility, because it encourages gentle, sustained stretches that build muscle strength and physical endurance over time.

Much of our daily activity includes long hours in positions that are not conducive to good alignment or proper posture. As long as we are awake, our body is working to support its own weight. Even at rest, how we sleep and the condition of our bedding determines our level or physical and mental health, particularly when dealing with chronic pain.

Certain areas are particularly susceptible to damage – the lower back, the neck, the knees, and the upper cervical spine. These areas suffer the most from improper positioning, physical stress, and limited range of motion.

The cumulative effect of these stress factors take a toll on our skeletal structure, adding to the natural consequences of our aging process. To preserve for ourselves the greatest amount of independence and physical freedom in our later years, a regular exercise program that includes frequent stretching as part of daily activity is imperative.

To learn more about how stretching can improve your flexibility, stamina, and well-being over time, join us this month at any of our seven locations for a closer look at the potential benefits of stretching. Like many of the enlightening discussions we’ve had in the past, we hope to provide attendees with the tools to improve the quality of life for our community.

Tackett, C. Benefits of flexibility training (2009). The Stretching Institute. Retrieved September 4, 2009 from http://www.thestretchinghandbook.com/archives/flexibility-benefits.php

An active approach to osteoarthritis: moving beyond the pain (2009). American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (AAPR&R). Retrieved September 4, 2009 from http://www.aapmr.org/condtreat/pain/osteo.htm