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"We must rid our bodies of every muscular contraction. That will give the body a better chance to rest"... Why did the author use "that" instead of "this" in the above sentence? Is this just a style or their preference?

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Quite simply, that is used to refer to what immediately precedes it. It is a way to situate or locate or point to something: these are called deictic pronouns. Deixis in English can be tricky. So, it's not a grammar thing; it's a discourse marker and meaning thing.

This is in addition to grammatical considerations. And it's quite important in how English works.

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In the example sentence, "that" is a demonstrative pronoun. "This" is also a demonstrative pronoun, and in the example sentence either "this" or "that" is grammatically correct. The choice of which to use is simply a matter of personal preference or style. Demonstrative pronouns in spoken English are often accompanied by a gesture to make clear the antecedent of the pronoun; such pronouns are fine in written English as long as the antecedent is clear, as it is in the example given in the question.

This discussion of demonstrative pronouns might be useful: http://grammar.yourdictionary.com/parts-of-speech/pronouns/what-is-a-demonstrative-pronoun.html

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The discussion referred to by @Maciej Stachowski is indeed good. But it is almost always true that when either "this" or "that" is used, a source of doubt and misunderstanding is created if it is not completely clear what it is that is being referenced by "this " or "that".

So, in the example quoted what does "that" refer to? Muscular contraction? No. In that particular case "that" refers to the ridding of our bodies of every muscular contraction.

It is a good exercise to think what noun should follow "this" or "that" or "it" in any sentence that begins with either of those words. It is very easy to write sentences that show that this can lead to a problem for the reader in understanding. That will help the reader with it.

If your reader might have any doubt about what is being referred to, don't use those words on their own.

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  • It refers to the entire idea contained in the first sentence.
    – Lambie
    Commented Feb 20, 2018 at 0:53

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