Can Stretching Regularly Prevent Deadly COVID-19 Symptoms?

Meet Nick Alcocer, the General Manager at StretchLab in North Scottsdale. He is a personal trainer and a certified Flexologist at StretchLab.

Additionally, Nick is a certified Group Fitness Instructor and holds a bachelor’s degree from Arizona State University in the field of Exercise and Wellness.

He has been in the fields of Orthopedics, Physical Therapy, and Occupational Therapy for the past 8 years. With a long history working alongside some of Arizona’s best orthopedic surgeons as an Orthopedic Assistant, Orthopedic Technician, and Physical Therapy Technician. 

Nick Alcocer provided us insight on how stretching can prevent some of COVID-19’s deadliest symptoms.

How does stretching reduce acute respiratory distress syndrome caused by COVID-19? Does stretching increase airflow, and therefore there is a lesser chance of respiratory disease? 

Stretching helps reduce acute respiratory distress because it ups our body’s production of a potent antioxidant known as “extracellular superoxide dismutase (EcSOD).

Recent research from the Virginia Tech School of Medicine found that EcSOD hunts down harmful free radicals, protecting our tissues and helping to prevent disease. Our muscles naturally make EcSOD, sending it into circulation to bind to other vital organs, but its production is enhanced by light exercises like stretching. 

Even a single session of stretching ups production of EcSOD but the real benefit comes from stretching regularly.

What antioxidants are released in the body during and after stretching? Why are these stored in the muscles? 

Before we go any further, let’s quickly talk about what antioxidants are and what they do. Antioxidants are compounds made in the body and consumed in our food.

Antioxidants are the body’s defense mechanism against free radicals. Break out your chemistry books because it’s time to dig deep… free radicals are unstable atoms that can break down the body’s cells over time.

We call them “unstable” because they have an uneven number of electrons. This allows them to easily react with other molecules in the body that don’t want to be reacted with.

When the body’s oxygen molecules are split into separate, single atoms they become “unstable”. Over time, these unstable free radicals cause oxidative stress.

How, you ask? Well… there is a constant war being fought in our bodies between free radicals (the bad guys) and antioxidants (the good guys). Oxidative stress is what happens when there is an imbalance in the production of free radicals compared to antioxidants.

Free radicals love to attack muscle tissue. The body stores antioxidants in different parts of the muscles to help defend against oxidative stress caused by free radicals.

One of the antioxidants stored in skeletal muscle cells is called superoxide dismutase (SOD)… talk about a great superhero name! SOD is the greatest defender of free radicals in muscle tissue. 

How do these antioxidants help fight off disease and/or viruses? 

Oxidative stress can do some serious damage to the body and leave us susceptible to all sorts of infections, viruses, and diseases. It weakens our immune system by breaking down the cells in the body that are responsible for keeping us healthy and going strong.

Free radicals like to attack proteins (muscle), lipids (fat), and even DNA! When these types of tissues are attacked, it can lead to heart disease, atherosclerosis, hypertension, Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimer’s Disease, and even cancer.

Antioxidants help to neutralize these harmful free radicals, preventing oxidative stress, and maintaining the body’s homeostasis. 

Why does stretching help reduce pain and aches? Many people don’t want to stretch because of those pains. What would you say to them?

One of the body’s leading causes of joint pain and muscle aches is a lack of muscle elasticity. Think of your body as a machine. Your bones are the pieces that make up the framework of your “machine”.

Your joints are all of the gears and leavers where your machine is designed to move. Your muscles/connective tissue are the wires and cables responsible for working with your joints making all of these pieces move properly. Now imagine all these wires and cables began to rust.

They become stiff and brittle making them prone to damage. As a result, your machine begins to malfunction, squeak and grind… and THAT is when we begin to experience pain.

Pain is the body’s way of telling us that something is not functioning properly. When our muscles and connective tissue lack elasticity, it causes all kinds of problems such as inflammation, improper structural alignment, poor posture, decreased balance.

Incorporating stretching and exercise can be a scary subject when you are experiencing pain. Why would you want to do something that you know is going to hurt?

The problem begins when someone experiences muscle or joint pain. That leads to a fear of mobility so… what happens? The person avoids moving or stretching. This leads to even more stiffness and pain.

I like to call this the Pain Cycle. Pain -> Fear -> Immobility -> Pain… and this cycle goes around and around. A good friend of mine (Physical Therapist Mark Jagodzinski) always says, “Motion is Lotion.” Meaning the more we move, the more the body maintains proper joint function.

The more we stretch, the more range of motion we gain to allow the body to move freely in all the directions it is designed to move. Think back to our machine metaphor. If a machine is left to sit and never move, it rusts, breaks down, and falls apart.

Similarly, if we do not move, exercise, or stretch, the repetitive cycle of immobility and stiffness eventually takes over.

At StretchLab, we get a lot of people who come in after an injury or a medical procedure because they are having difficulty moving. Our assisted stretching allows them to get the movement they need and reduces their pain without worsening their condition.

Many individuals always say, “I am just not flexible,” is that truly a thing? Or can we all as humans develop our flexibility over time? 

The key aspect to remember is that everyone is built differently. There is no specific standard when it comes to stretching. I feel this is a big reason people avoid it so fearfully.

We often have clients who begin their stretching programs with phrases like, “this is embarrassing” or “I never used to be like this.” I think my favorite is, “I don’t know how this happened.”

Yes, there are numerous standardized tests that measure joint mobility and flexibility… and while these tests may help to diagnose or treat mechanical or structural imbalances, it is important to remember that we all must start somewhere. So, we cannot label or categorize ourselves as “just not flexible” based on a standardized test.

Additionally, each person’s body responds to stretching differently. Moreover, there are several factors that can increase or inhibit the body’s ability to stretch (ex: hydration). We all have the ability to develop and maintain our flexibility.

Like all components of fitness, it takes time and consistency to see results. The most important thing is to just get started and get stretching! 

What other health benefits come from regular stretching? When is the best time to stretch?

One of the greatest benefits of stretching is reducing pain, inflammation, and potential for injury. You know that sore feeling you experience after a great workout?

A fancy term for that is DOMS. DOMS stands for Decreased Onset of Muscle Soreness. Stretching helps to decrease DOMS. Stretching helps to flush the muscles of toxins by increasing circulation. This helps to bring fresh oxygen-rich blood to the muscles. 

Any time is a good time to stretch… but there are a couple of things to remember if you want to increase the benefits of your stretching routine. The first thing to remember is that warm muscles stretch better than cold muscles.

So, after a walk, run, hike, or training session be sure to incorporate a regular stretching regimen. Another important thing to remember is to never neglect an area just because it is uncomfortable. Many times, areas of most discomfort and immobility are the most problematic.

We, at StretchLab take each of our clients through a full head-to-toe stretch program and focus primarily on those problematic areas leading to residual pain in the back, neck, or other areas.

If you have never tried an assisted stretch, I highly recommend coming in and trying your first 50-minute session.

So…If one of your New Year’s resolutions is to get back into fitness and begin living life pain-free, have no fear… StretchLab is here!

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