The underrated benefits of stretching that rival strenuous exercise

If you’re a runner or even if you do some fast walking now and then, you’ve probably been advised to warm up by stretching your muscles before you get going. “Cold,” stiff muscles will almost certainly be injured during exercise.

But what if stretching IS exercise?

In other words, what if it can help you live longer and healthier — just like those more strenuous workouts, but minus as much work?

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Stretching is as good as aerobics

Too easy, you say? No running or sweating — just stretching?

Here’s the accumulating proof…

In 2020, the results of a 17-year study that followed nearly 27,000 American adults and examined the effects of 15 different types of exercise were finally published.

  • They found that walking, aerobics, stretching, weightlifting and stair climbing were related to lower risks of death.
  • But when they looked deeper, they saw stretching was uniquely associated with longevity.

And this was no fluke…

In a 2023 study among Korean adults, those who did flexibility exercise at least five times a week had a 20 percent lower risk of dying than those who didn’t stretch at all — slightly better than the risk reduction associated with high volumes of aerobic exercise and resistance training. 

So how could stretching lead to better and longer health? It’s all about a few unique benefits…

3 ways stretching helps you live longer and healthier

If you’re past the age of 40, your body has already begun to lose muscle mass.

And if you’re in your 60s or 70s, this process is moving at an even more rapid pace. This age-related muscle loss is known as sarcopenia.

As our muscles weaken, a vicious cycle begins: less physical activity leads to sedentary behavior, greater deterioration, and makes us ripe for metabolic diseases like diabetes and heart disease.

Here’s how stretching can help…

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More strength. While strength training is more efficient than stretching for building muscle, they both apply tension to muscles and connective tissue, which activates proteins called integrins.

Integrins send and receive signals across cellular membranes. Those signals lead to protein synthesis, which is how muscles get bigger and stronger.

If your age or a physical disability prevents you from strength training, then stretching is a great way for you to continue building muscle and avoid the trap of sarcopenia.

Fewer injuries. Athletes who stretch can experience fewer injuries when doing explosive movements or changing direction. For non-athletes, the benefit can translate to improved balance. Poor balance means more falls, often causing a hip fracture that’s hard to recover from.

Reduced arterial stiffness. If your body doesn’t move well, it’s reasonable to assume that your blood vessels are stiff, too, and your blood isn’t flowing well. 

The list of things that can go wrong with your blood vessels is long – from hardened arteries to peripheral artery disease to blood clots.

Most people think of diet and exercise as the best ways to take care of our blood vessels.

However, it’s been proven that simply stretching your legs five times a week can improve blood flow and arterial stiffness. It has also lowered blood pressure more than walking briskly every day.

Start stretching

More and more of us are retired, working from home, or, like me, both (retired teacher and home-based writer).

This means that the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle are catching up with us.

Fortunately, stretching is super easy to incorporate into your daily routine. You don’t need any equipment, and you don’t have to worry about the weather.

It also doesn’t take much time. You can stretch while you’re watching TV, while you’re cooking, or any other time you think of it. But it will work best if you schedule it into your day (for example, I set a timer to get me away from my desk and stretch every 45 minutes).

YouTube is a great resource for free videos to get started stretching. Look for beginner versions first and work your way up.

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Is Stretching Now Underrated? Accumulating Research Says Yes — Medscape

Effects of Stretching on Injury Risk Reduction and Balance — Exercise and Sports Science Australia

Associations of Exercise Types with All-Cause Mortality among U.S. Adults — Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise

Aerobic, muscle-strengthening, and flexibility physical activity and risks of all-cause and cause-specific mortality: a population-based prospective cohort of Korean adults — Journal BMC Public Health

Joyce Hollman

By Joyce Hollman

Joyce Hollman is a writer based in Kennebunk, Maine, specializing in the medical/healthcare and natural/alternative health space. Health challenges of her own led Joyce on a journey to discover ways to feel better through organic living, utilizing natural health strategies. Now, practicing yoga and meditation, and working towards living in a chemical-free home, her experiences make her the perfect conduit to help others live and feel better naturally.