Elastic strain engineering offers a new route to enable high-performance catalysts, electrochemical energy conversion devices, separation membranes and memristors. By applying mechanical stress, the inherent energy landscape of reactions involved in the material can be altered. This is the so-called mechano-chemical coupling. Here we discuss how elastic strain activates reactions on metals and oxides. We also present analogies to strained polymer reactions. A rich set of investigations have been performed on strained metal surfaces over the last 15 years, and the mechanistic reasons behind strain-induced reactivity are explained by an electronic structure model. On the other hand, the potential of strain engineering of oxides for catalytic and energy applications has been largely underexplored. In oxides, mechanical stress couples to reaction and diffusion kinetics by altering the oxygen defect formation enthalpy, migration energy barrier, adsorption energy, dissociation barrier, and charge transfer barrier. A generalization of the principles for stress activated reactions from polymers to metals to oxides is offered, and the prospect of using elastic strain to tune reaction and diffusion kinetics in functional oxides is discussed.