Did You Know Stretching is Just as Important as Exercise?
There’s no doubt about it: Americans aren’t getting enough physical activity. Healthy adults should be making a point of getting at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity every week.
If you already know that you need to be more active, you may be preparing a regular exercise regimen of your own. That’s a great start, but don’t forget to finish it correctly. A few minutes of gentle “cool-down” exercises such as stretches can make the difference in how well your body responds to your new routine.
Have you ever noticed just how good a nice stretch feels after a nap, when you first wake up in the morning, or after vigorous physical activity? That good feeling just scratches the surface of the many health benefits you can get from regular stretching.
That’s why our physical therapist commonly recommends specific types of stretching exercises to complement other physical therapy modalities.
Why is stretching important?
Many common aches and pains stem from tight muscles and poor movement. The key to good health is to keep your body flexible. This helps your circulatory, respiratory, lymphatic, and musculoskeletal systems.
When your tissues are flexible, normal blood and lymphatic fluids circulate the body easier, oxygenating your tissues properly. This helps you feel energized, relieves pain, and allows you to perform daily tasks without feeling tired.
Additionally, stretching is necessary for dedicated athletes, weekend warriors, or anyone looking to improve their physical performance. After a workout, you may not feel the need to stretch if your muscles aren’t aching or sore.
However, there are several potential effects of not taking the time to stretch correctly after exercise. You might experience stiffness if you’re not stretching adequately. Muscles and tendons that aren’t stretched properly after exercise may be more susceptible to injury.
Here are three reasons not to skip this critical part of your workout:
Reason #1: Maintaining a healthy heart rate
One of the great benefits of moderate exercise is its ability to elevate your heart rate for sustained periods. This controlled stress helps to strengthen the heart muscle, boost your circulation, and deliver extra oxygen to your muscles.
Once that workout is over, however, it’s time to return to homeostasis (your body’s natural resting state). You don’t want to walk away from your physical therapy sessions or home exercise routine with a pounding heart, abnormal blood pressure, and a dizzy head.
Post-exercise stretches are called “cool-downs” for a reason. They gradually, gently bring your vital signs back down to their normal ranges, preventing too-rapid blood pooling and the lightheadedness that might cause a serious fall or other accident.
Your physical therapist will always guide you through cool-down stretches after vigorous exercise to ensure that you get maximum benefits from your workout without these unwanted post-workout side effects.
Reason #2: Releasing unwanted toxins
Are you familiar with that gnawing ache that develops in your muscles as you exercise? That reaction is caused by the presence of lactic acid. Lactic acid is a natural byproduct of muscular exertion, along with the accumulation of another metabolic waste product called hydroxyproline.
You don’t want these toxic substances hanging around in your muscles – but that’s exactly what they’ll do until you show them the door with some post-exercise stretches.
The longer these substances pool in your tissues, the more soreness you’ll experience in the 24 to 48 hours following your workout.
You might gain a few minutes on your hectic schedule, but you’ll pay the price in terms of pain – and you might even have to delay or reduce your next workout as a result.
Reason #3: Preventing injuries after a workout
Imagine putting in the time and effort to exercise, either on your own or as part of a physical therapy program — only to strain a muscle right after the exercise session is over. This is the sort of thing that can happen if you don’t follow through with those stretches after your workout.
As you exercise, your muscles get into the habit of pulling tightly against tendon attachments. After you stop exercising, those tissues are still tense and tight, lending themselves to strains, sprains, and the development of chronic inflammatory pain.
Stretches coax the tissues to relax and resume their former length, restoring their suppleness and making them less prone to post-workout damage.
Begin your journey today
Neglecting post-workout stretching is a common mistake when you’re not used to exercising.
If you’re getting more exercise to combat a physical issue such as chronic pain, you might even do yourself more harm than good without the proper guidance.
Our physical therapist can provide that guidance – so contact Back to Work Physical Therapy today!