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The Surprising Health Benefits of Stretching

February 27, 2024 from Medscape

Stretching is often seen as the necessary, yet uninspiring, prelude to a workout. Some even question its necessity, with research suggesting that preworkout stretching might weaken muscles and hinder performance. Yet, despite this lukewarm reception, recent studies suggest that stretching offers significant health benefits, including a lower risk of all-cause mortality.

Stretching and Mortality

A 2020 study on exercise and mortality found that stretching was uniquely associated with a lower risk for all-cause mortality among American adults. This was after controlling for participation in other types of exercise. The finding seemed surprising until a 2023 study on Korean adults found similar results. Those who performed flexibility exercises at least five times a week had a 20% lower risk of dying during the follow-up period compared to those who didn’t stretch at all. This reduction in mortality risk was even slightly better than the risk reduction associated with high volumes of aerobic exercise and resistance training.

The Benefits of Stretching

Increased Strength

While flexibility training and strength training may seem unrelated, both involve applying tension to muscles and connective tissues. This tension activates proteins called integrins, which signal the start of protein synthesis, leading to muscle growth and strength. Although stretching alone may not be as efficient for muscle growth as strength training, it can still offer small gains, especially for older and more sedentary individuals.

Reduced Arterial Stiffness

Stretching has notable cardiovascular benefits. Poor flexibility is associated with arterial stiffness, but stretching can improve arterial function, reduce resting heart rate and blood pressure, and increase vasodilation. Enhanced mobility also indirectly benefits cardiovascular health by making physical activities more efficient, thus encouraging more movement and improved fitness.

Improved Athletic Performance

Though research is mixed on whether stretching directly improves athletic performance, increasing range of motion can help athletes perform better and reduce injury risk. To avoid potential performance reductions associated with static stretching, experts recommend limiting each stretch to less than 60 seconds and combining static stretches with more active warm-up exercises.

Fewer Injuries

Increased flexibility allows muscles to generate force safely at longer lengths, reducing the risk of injuries, especially during explosive movements or sudden changes in direction. For nonathletes, improved flexibility enhances balance, reducing the risk of falls and associated injuries.

Practical Stretching Tips

Joe Yoon, a sports massage therapist, advocates for a simple, consistent approach to stretching. Yoon stated that “There’s this misconception that you have to do a lot of it to be successful”. Rather than elaborate routines, he suggests incorporating basic stretches into daily practice. For example, a stiff back can benefit from the puppy pose held for 30 seconds to 2 minutes, combined with dynamic movements like the cat-cow. Consistency is more important than volume; a little bit every day is key.

Yoon also highlights the interconnected nature of the body, where stretching one area can benefit others. For instance, stretching the upper back can improve shoulder mobility, while lower-body stretches can enhance flexibility in the knees and lower back. This interconnectedness may explain the comprehensive health benefits of stretching.

The recent studies underscore the multifaceted benefits of stretching, from improved flexibility and strength to cardiovascular health and reduced injury risk. These benefits contribute to a lower risk of mortality, making stretching an essential part of a balanced fitness routine. Encouraging patients to incorporate regular, simple stretches into their daily lives can significantly enhance their overall health and well-being.


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