YES! Stretching is important as it helps keep muscles healthy, strong and flexible. Flexibility supports proper range of movement in the joints and without it muscles can become shortened and tight. This means that when you call on those muscles to run or jump or bend they are unable to extend all the way, which can put you at risk of joint pain, strains and muscle damage.
Case in point, sitting in a chair all day – one major detriment to long periods of sitting is the effect on your posture, flexibility and joint health. Sitting for long periods of time results in the progressive tightening of the hip muscles (due to the constant hip flexion position) as well as tight hamstrings in the back of the thigh. That can make it harder to extend your leg or straighten your knee all the way, which inhibits walking. When you get up at the end of a long day of sitting the hips need to move but tight muscles limit the hip’s natural mobility so the movement is often carried out higher up in the lumbar spine leading to pain and discomfort. Likewise, when tight muscles are suddenly called on for a strenuous activity, such as playing tennis or running around on the footy field they may become damaged from suddenly being stretched. Injured muscles may not be strong enough to support the joints, which can lead to joint injury also.
There has been a lot of discussion about sitting and the health risks associated with sitting – ‘sitting is the new smoking’ but if you exercise regularly each day outside of work you should be right? Right?! Not necessarily. Recent studies indicate that exercising after work isn’t enough to prevent the higher risk of diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and increased risk of mortality that is associated with long periods of sitting. The key to reducing the health risk of sitting for long periods of time is to ensure you are having regular breaks to move and stretch the body. A recent review suggested that breaking up each half hour of work to move helped to prevent catabolism (the breakdown of tissues) that is known to happen in sedentary periods. Current recommendations suggest five minutes of stretching or moving to every 30 minutes of sitting – and while that may seem like a lot it’s a lot better than increasing your risk of:
- Atrophy (wasting away) of large leg and gluteal muscles
- Weight gain
- Hip and back problems
- Anxiety and depression
- Certain cancers including lung, uterine and colon cancers
- Heart disease
- Varicose veins
- Deep vein thrombosis
- Neck and shoulder pain and stiffness
Regular stretching keeps muscles long, lean, and flexible, and this means that when you call on those muscles when you exercise the exertion is less likely to lead to muscle strain or injury.
What to do:
- Roll downs (rolling down the spine reaching towards your toes)
- Hip flexor stretches
- Calf stretches
- Rolling ankles and wrists
- Shoulder rolls
- Nodding head back and forward and side to side
- Tricep stretch