With exercise, there may be a tendency to focus on more vigorous activities like hiking, jogging, swimming, sports, or weightlifting. However, we should never underestimate the power of stretching. While stretching won’t improve overall endurance or strength like those other more strenuous activities, stretching exercises have many significant health benefits. (1)
Health benefits of stretching exercises
While there are various types of stretching, static stretching is the most common type from which everyone can benefit. Whereas dynamic stretching is more active and typically done by athletes or as a warm up before sporting events or vigorous exercise, (6) static stretching exercises are performed by moving muscles in a slow controlled manner to their greatest possible length, holding that position for a period of time, and then repeating that same movement. (5)
Surprisingly, the concept of static muscle stretching is fairly new. Stretching exercises were first introduced in the 1980s in Japan as part of sports coaching which led to a stretching popularity boom as a result of the many health benefits experience by athletes, including:
- Decreased muscle tension
- Enhanced athletic performance
- Improved circulation
- Increased flexibility and range of motion
- Injury prevention
- Muscle pain relief (4)
Who can benefit from stretching exercises?
Nearly everyone can benefit from stretching exercises—adults, children, elderly, and even people with certain health issues. Shorter muscle can contract and spasm, leading to pain and discomfort. Individuals who experience muscle tension can benefit from stretching exercises as these exercises lengthen muscles. (6)
Stretching exercises are commonly incorporated into rehabilitation programs for individuals recovering from orthopedic surgery, those who have had a stroke or spinal cord injury, or individuals trying to manage back, knee, or shoulder pain. (6)
Balance and fall prevention
A 2016 study demonstrated that lower extremity stretching exercises improved balance and reduced the number of falls in an elderly group of individuals with an average age of 61 years. (7)
People experiencing fatigue may benefit from adding stretching exercises to their daily routine. A 2015 systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized trials demonstrated that stretching as a part of an exercise intervention program helped significantly improve cancer-related fatigue. (3)
People who have been diagnosed with cardiovascular health issues or diabetes or those trying to reduce the risk of these conditions may also benefit from stretching exercises. According to a 2020 study featured in The Journal of Physiology, stretching exercises decreased arterial stiffness and increased blood flow and dilation, providing potential benefits for people with heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. (2)
The best news about stretching is that anyone can do it, and it’s simple to get started.
Getting started with stretching exercises
Some exercise programs like Pilates or yoga automatically include stretching as a part of the routine. Taking a stretching exercises for beginners class is one way to start experiencing the benefits of stretching exercises.
If you plan to incorporate stretching exercises in your daily routine at home, be sure to do it safely. The American Heart Association offers these tips:
- Always relax and breathe normally while stretching.
- A stretch should be smooth and slow. Avoid bouncing or jerking movements.
- Hold the stretch for ten to 30 seconds, and repeat each stretch three to five times.
- Never lock your joints in a straight position. Keep joints slightly bent to help avoid injury.
- As you become more flexible, try reaching farther with each stretching exercise.
- A mild pulling feeling during a stretch is normal but if you experience sharp, stabbing pain or any joint pain, you should stop stretching because that means you are going too far. (1)
Muscles are more easily stretched when they are warm, so do your stretching exercises after you’ve warmed up your muscles—even a quick walk will help you achieve this. (8)
If you have had a hip or knee replacement, check with your doctor or a physical therapist before doing lower body stretches. If you can’t get up easily off the floor, in addition to getting guidance from a doctor or physical therapist, consider stretching with a friend or sitting on a chair. (8)
The bottom line
Stretching exercises offer many health benefits, including decreased muscle tension, enhanced performance, improved circulation, increased flexibility, injury prevention, and muscle pain relief. With so many benefits, it just makes sense to incorporate stretching activities in your daily routine.
If you are new to stretching exercises, consider consulting with an integrative healthcare professional for additional guidance before embarking on a new stretching routine.
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- American Heart Association. (2018, April 18). Flexibility Exercises (Stretching). https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/fitness/fitness-basics/flexibility-exercise-stretching
- Bisconti, A. V., Longo, S., Venturelli, M., Coratella, G., Limonta, E., Doria, C., Rampichini, S., & Esposito, F. (2020). Evidence for improved systemic and local vascular function after long-term passive static stretching of musculoskeletal system. The Journal of Physiology, 598(17), 2645-3666.
- Meneses-Echavez, J. F, Gonzalez-Jimenez, E., & Ramirez-Velez, R. (2015). Effects of supervised multimodal exercise intervention on cancer-related fatigue: systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Biomed Research International, 2015.
- Nakamura, K., Kodama, T., & Mukaino, Y. (2014). Effects of active individual muscle stretching on muscle function. J Phys Ther Sci, 26(3), 341-344.
- O’Sullivan, K., Murray, E., & Sainsbury, D. (2009). The effect of warm-up static stretching and dynamic stretching on hamstring flexibility in previously injured subjects. BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders, 10(37).
- Page, P. (2012). Current concepts in muscle stretching for exercise and rehabilitation. Int J Sports Phys Ther, 7(1), 109-119.
- Reddy, R. S., & Alahmari, K. A. (2016). Effect of lower extremity stretching exercises on balance in geriatric population. Int J Health Sci, 10(3), 389-395.
- US Department of Veterans Affairs. (2021, Accessed March 31). Physical Activity Handouts P33 Version 5.0. https://www.move.va.gov/docs/NewHandouts/PhysicalActivity/P33_SampleFlexibilityProgramForBeginners.pdf