The Importance of Stretching

The Importance of Stretching

We’re always being told how important it is to exercise – to do at least three sessions of activity a week, and to increase our heart rate. But it’s not often mentioned how important it is to stretch before you begin, after all, what’s the worst that can happen?

Well, not only are you at risk from immediate injury by not properly stretching before exercise, but now we’re being told not warming up or cooling down can in fact increase the risk of injury and even osteoarthritis in later life.  According to a recent survey, reasons for people not warming up before an exercise session included  not being “bothered” (27 per cent), and thinking it’s not important (27 per cent).

The Active Age 2012 survey, carried out by the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy and Arthritis Research UK, questioned 2,583 adults and 1,022 children across the UK, asking about their physical activity levels over the previous week.

So now ask yourself if you always warm up properly before you exercise. The answer is most likely going to be no. It’s easy to launch yourself into an exercise session without worrying about the time consuming all body stretches. After all, have you ever stood beside the public swimming pool doing your warm up?

A lot of seasoned runners head out of the door straight into a brisk jog without a second thought of pulling a muscle; swimmers are straight in the pool without so much of a stretch, and it’s easy to play a game of tennis with a mate and not even consider the idea of warming up or down – you might look a bit silly in front of your mates, right?

Nearly three-quarters (74%) of people questioned who never warmed up said they had never been shown how to.  Generally it’s only from our school days that we even have a notion of what it is to stretch, think pointing toes, and neck stretches. And although these may seem like insignificant movements, just the gentle warming up of muscles can help to prevent so many injuries.

Runners risk a whole variety of muscle strains – particularly to the legs and lower back. Achilles injury’s, tendon, ankle and ligament damage is highly common and ruptures and tears can all be caused by not warming up enough.  Any activity which involves sudden power in your shoulders – think shot putters, weight lifting, discus, and tennis, can cause injury to the upper limbs.

If you are jumping, whether it be in a racquet sport, or competitive long and triple jump, you can cause stress injuries to the lower limbs and more crucially, your spine, along with the possibility of developing injuries to the tendons and ligaments of the Achilles and knees.

And it’s not just the warming up – it’s the warming down as well. Suddenly stopping any kind of exercise can make your muscles seize up, you might get cramps, or you’ll get tight ligaments. But surely the last thing you want to do after a full-on exercise session is do even more moving?

With so much at stake, surely warming up is a simple solution to preventing many of these problems? Not so. According to the survey only 17 per cent of people who warm up "rehearse" the movements associated with the activity.  The findings are a real cause for concern for health experts, who say that as well as far too few people taking enough weekly exercise, those who are taking exercise are simply not doing it safely.

Along with all the injuries previously mentioned, it is thought that not stretching properly can lead to osteoarthritis in later life and part of the problem is mindset, stretching out and warming up aren’t necessarily things that we practice in reality.

Simple warm-up exercises increase the blood flow to the muscles and make them more mobile and easing yourself into your training session means the body isn’t shocked into injury.  Cooling down can also prevent stiffness for the following day, meaning that you won’t be hobbling around the office in agony. Pain, at any point during or after exercise, is a signal that your body isn’t coping with the stress, and you should be listening to your body.

So the answer – well if you’re going for a swim and you don’t want to look like an idiot at the poolside, why not have a stretch in the changing room? Runners, stretch out properly at home and start at a gentle pace when you get going. And if you’re playing tennis with a mate, well why not have a gentle “knock about” before you get really into it.

Exercise is important, but if you don’t stretch then you’ll injure yourself before you’ve even started, and with so few people doing the recommended amount of exercise it’s important that you boost the stats and stay safe and fit.

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