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Surprising Health Benefits of Stretching: 4 Facts

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Stretching has health benefits that go beyond relaxation and flexibility.

Stretching has health benefits that are often overlooked. And we don’t mean stretching out for some ‘couch potato’ time. Here are 4 facts that can give you incentive to incorporate a daily stretch into your everyday routine, even if you’re not exercising regularly.

Fewer fat cells
Research shows when we’re inactive our body turns cells into fat. Even if you’re thin and watching your diet, inactivity from lying down or sitting too long can have negative health consequences.

Prof. Amit Gefen of Tel Aviv University’s Department of Biomedical Engineering found inactivity encourages the body to make more fat cells in findings published December, 2011.

The researchers said sitting at a desk for prolonged periods could thwart an otherwise healthy diet and lifestyle.

When you can’t exercise from time or physical constraints, stretching can be an option that is easily performed at your desk or even in front of the TV.

Back pain treatment
According to PT in Motion, the professional issues magazine of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), 30 percent of people reported back pain in 2009 within the preceding 3 months of the CDC’s Health, United States, 2010 report.

For some people, back pain can become chronic. Almost everyone is susceptible to developing back pain at some point in a lifetime.

Karen J. Sherman, Ph.D., M.P.H., from Group Health Research Institute, Seattle says stretching with yoga or other conventional exercise has benefits for moderate back pain that can last for months; based on a 2011 published study.

Heart health
You might not think of stretching as beneficial for the heart, but studies show the activity is indeed beneficial for maintaining healthy arteries.

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Simply being able to touch your toes has been proposed as a way to test a person’s risk for heart disease.

If you’re not flexible, it can be a sign of stiff arteries that can lead to high blood pressure.

It may be that stretching promotes collagen and elastin in the blood vessels as well as the muscles. The study was published in the American Journal of Physiology - Heart and Circulatory Physiology.

Increased endurance
Stretching exercises could improve strength and endurance – something normally associated with resistance training and aerobic activity.

That doesn’t mean stretching should replace aerobics and strength training, but it can put you on the path for slowly increasing your activity level for better health.

Researchers published findings in The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 2008 showing a specific 4 week stretching program was able to produce power, strength, muscle endurance, improved anaerobic capacity, and agility in wrestlers.

Stretching can be easily accomplished anywhere. Stretch at your desk, when traveling or in front of the TV. Be careful to avoid injury. You can visit your local gym or tap into online instructional videos. Speak with your doctor first if you've been sedentary. Other well-known health benefits include relaxation and injury prevention from increased range of motion.

American Physiological Society
“A Simple Way for Middle Aged & Older Adults to Assess How Stiff Their Arteries Are: Reach for their Toes”
October, 2009

Archives of Internal Medicine
“A Randomized Trial Comparing Yoga, Stretching, and a Self-care Book for Chronic Low Back Pain”
Karen J. Sherman, PhD, MPH; Daniel C. Cherkin, PhD; Robert D. Wellman, MS; Andrea J. Cook, PhD; Rene J. Hawkes, BS; Kristin Delaney, MPH; Richard A. Deyo, MD, MPH
December 11, 2011

The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research
“Four-week dynamic stretching warm-up intervention elicits longer-term performance benefits.”
Sonja L Herman, Derek T Smith

Image credit: Morguefile