Writer: CAROLINE WILLIAMS | Outlet: New Scientist
“I BEND so I don’t break.” No one knows who first coined this phrase, but search for it online and you will find it accompanying numerous pictures of yogis in various states of contortion. Flexibility, according to common wisdom, is not only impressive to look at, but something we should actively work towards.
Scientifically, however, the question of whether we should stretch to become more flexible has been difficult to answer. Assumptions about the benefits of stretching to prevent sports injuries and greater flexibility being better for our overall physical fitness hadn’t been confirmed by studies. Does it matter if you can’t touch your toes, let alone do the splits? Even in sports science, where most of the research has been conducted, there has been little agreement.
In recent years, though, answers have started to emerge. The surprising outcome is that, while stretching may well be good for us, it is for reasons that have nothing to do with being able to get your leg behind your head.
One thing is for sure: stretching feels good, particularly after a long spell of being still. We aren’t the only species to have worked this out. As anyone with a dog or cat will know, many animals take a deep stretch after lying around. This kind of stretching, called pandiculation, is so common in nature that some have suggested it evolved as a reflex to wake up the muscles after a spell of stillness.