From basketball players to swimmers, every athlete has one thing in common: stretching after a workout. Stretching is a type of exercise that is a critical part of any intensive physical routine. Why is stretching so important, and how can it affect our bodies?
Why We Stretch
The human body has over 600 muscles, which each contain stretch receptors attached to muscle fibers. When we stretch, some of these fibers lengthen, while the others stay at rest. Stretching is a natural and instinctive behavior displayed in most species. Most of us will automatically stretch when we wake up from sleeping but stretching is also a form of exercise. Deliberately flexing a specific muscle can help improve flexibility and muscle control.
The Advantages of Stretching
Stretching is known to improve posture and relieve stress. It has also been shown to provide health benefits, including:
- Flexibility: We know each muscle contains stretch receptors. These receptors send messages to the nerves controlling muscle contractions. Stretching regularly can train stretch receptors to lengthen muscles, which causes increased flexibility. Flexibility is crucial for an athlete’s performance and can increase strength and effortless movement.
- Blood Flow: Stretching can also improve blood flow to areas that need it. While we are physical, the body releases chemicals that expand the arteries, allowing more blood to come in. A boost in blood flow can provide shorter recovery times and reduced muscle soreness.
Stretching is especially beneficial for those with arthritis. It helps promote lubrication in joints while enhancing and maintaining range of motion.