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The Science of Stretching: Unlocking the Benefits of Flexibility

Introduction

 

As we age, our bodies undergo a natural decline in flexibility, with our range of motion gradually decreasing. From our twenties to our forties, our flexibility diminishes by approximately 10% each decade. However, research has shown that incorporating a dedicated stretching routine into our lives can significantly improve our range of motion and flexibility. In this article, we will explore the benefits of stretching, the most effective stretching techniques, and how to incorporate stretching into your daily routine. The musculoskeletal system is such an integral part of health and it consists of 3 components:


  1. Muscular Strength

  2. Endurance

  3. Flexibility.


Naru Nutrition stretching is a pilar of our Wind Element, which is a key foundation of a healthy, free and mobile body.  

 



Stretching from our twenties to our forties, our flexibility diminishes by approximately 10% each decade.

Benefits of Stretching

 

Stretching is not just about increasing flexibility; it offers a wide range of benefits for our overall health. Regular stretching can lead to improvements in balance, stability, posture, gait, and physical performance. Moreover, it can help reduce feelings of tightness and alleviate pain. Recent studies even suggest that stretching may have anti-inflammatory properties and could potentially lower the risk of certain diseases, such as cancer.


Stretching Blood Vessels


Stretching muscles also affects the blood vessels within them, raising questions about whether this stretch is beneficial or harmful. Maintaining proper blood flow during stretching is crucial, and early research suggests that practices like yoga can reduce arterial stiffness, potentially decreasing cardiovascular issues in older individuals. Recent studies from the University of Milan indicate that a 12-week stretching regimen improves blood flow, reduces blood pressure, and lowers artery stiffness, which is linked to conditions like high blood pressure, stroke, and heart disease. However, further research, including replication studies, is needed to fully understand the implications for yoga and stretching in cardiovascular health. Caution is advised, recommending gradual, controlled stretching with proper breathing, especially for cardiac patients. Questions about the effects on lymphatic vessels, the mechanisms behind these effects, and applicability to patients with existing blood vessel stiffness remain unanswered, urging a more comprehensive and evidence-based examination of this technique.



No Need to Stretch Intensely (or for Very Long)

 

Contrary to popular belief, you don't need to engage in intense stretching that causes pain to reap the benefits. Research by Wyon et al. found that "microstretching," which is stretching to a point where it is mildly uncomfortable (30-40% intensity), is more effective than pushing yourself to extreme limits. The key to success in stretching lies in consistency and frequency, not intensity.


A practical stretching routine can take as little as five minutes per day, making it accessible for everyone.

 

Static Stretching

 

While dynamic and ballistic stretching have their uses, static stretching, where you hold a stretch without using momentum, is the most effective method for long-term flexibility gains. Bandy et al. determined that a minimum of 30 seconds per static hold is necessary to see flexibility improvements. Additionally, the frequency of stretching sessions is crucial. According to Palma et al.'s comprehensive review, stretching each muscle group at least five times per week for a total of five minutes per muscle group per week is optimal.

 

Static Stretching - Protocol Basics:

 

  • Perform 2-4 sets of 30-second static holds per muscle group, 5 days per week.

  • You can achieve the same results by holding each stretch longer (e.g., 60 seconds) and reducing the frequency (stretching every other day), but consistency is key.

 



PNF Stretching

 

Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) stretching takes advantage of the body's protective mechanisms to increase flexibility. PNF combines stretching and muscle contraction to enhance joint range of motion and, in some cases, contractile strength. It leverages intrafusal spindle fibres and Golgi tendon organs to achieve these gains. A basic PNF routine can be incorporated into your stretching regimen.

 

Antagonistic Muscle Groups

 

Incorporating exercises that alternate between antagonistic muscle groups can be highly effective in improving overall performance. This approach allows certain muscle groups to relax while others are actively engaged, promoting greater muscle efficiency. This phenomenon is known as autogenic inhibition.

 

Conclusion

 

Incorporating stretching into your daily routine can have a profound impact on your overall health and flexibility. Whether you opt for static stretching, PNF stretching, or a combination of both, consistency is the key to success. You don't need to stretch intensely or for extended periods; a few minutes each day can lead to noticeable improvements in your range of motion and overall well-being. So, start stretching today and unlock the benefits of flexibility for a healthier, more agile future.

 

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