Some people are naturally flexible while others loathe the idea of stretching. But it’s actually beneficial for everyone regardless of where you are on the “flexibility scale.”
Because at least some flexibility is important, stretching is also important. If you don’t have time to do any cardiovascular exercise, you can always stretch throughout the day, meaning there’s no excuse not to do it. Besides, we’ve all had that awful feeling of waking up after sleeping in a strange position and having a kink in our neck or a little bit of a stiff feeling in our back. But stretching not only helps relieve those issues, but it will help improve your flexibility and keep it from happening again!
While diet, strength training, and cardiovascular health are all important pillars of our overall well-being, flexibility seems to be left out of the equation. But it shouldn’t be!
These are the 6 HUGE benefits to incorporating a daily stretching routine into your life:
- Improved Flexibility – improving your flexibility will not only help you feel less sore after strength training, but it will also decrease your likelihood of injuring yourself. Whether you slip on the ice in a parking lot or move in a strange way while working out, if your muscles have the ability to stretch more, it’ll take more before they actually reach the point of no return. Think of it like a rubber band. The further you can stretch a rubber band before it breaks, the less likely you are to have a serious muscle injury. Improving your flexibility will also help you to perform everyday activities with relative ease while helping to delay the reduced mobility that can come with aging.
- Stress Relief – a daily stretching routine (much like yoga) can calm and soothe away stress. When you’re experiencing stress, there’s a good chance your muscles are tense and your body is running on the hormone cortisol. Neither of these things is good for your body over long periods of time. Because your muscles tend to tighten up in response to physical and emotional stress, it’s important to alleviate that stress with healthy activities. 5 (MORE) Natural And Healthy Ways To Beat The Holiday Stress. When you stretch for stress relief, it’s important to focus on areas of your body where you tend to hold your stress, such as your neck, shoulders, and upper back. Taking the time to relieve tension will also calm your mind, further reducing your stress. While you stretch, focus on mindfulness or do a meditation exercise or pray (whichever is most comfortable for you) and give your mind a mental break from all the chaos of life.
- Prevent and Heal Back Pain – this one is imperative for so many of us! Tight muscles can lead to a decrease in your range of motion and when this happens, you increase the likelihood of straining the muscles in your back. Ouch! Stretching can help heal an existing back injury by increasing the flexibility and strength of the muscles. A regular stretching routine can also help to reduce your risk for muscle strain, soreness, and pain.
- Improved Posture – as we age, our posture suffers and this has a lot to do with decreased mobility, especially in the aforementioned back. Muscle imbalances (one side of the body being stronger or more flexible than the other) are common and can lead to poor posture. One study even found that a combination of strengthening and stretching specific muscle groups can reduce musculoskeletal pain and encourage proper alignment of the spine. That, in turn, may help improve your posture. When we have good posture, we look confident, feel great, and know we can take on the world!
- Increased Blood Flow to Muscles – Performing stretches on a regular basis may improve your circulation. You may have poor blood circulation if you have consistently cold fingers and toes, or swelling in your lower extremities. You could also have joint pain and muscle cramping. Stretching can improve your circulation and help alleviate some of these symptoms. Improved circulation increases blood flow to your muscles, which can shorten your recovery time and reduce muscle soreness (also known as delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS).
- Improved Athletic Performance – Performing dynamic stretches prior to physical activities has been shown to help prepare your muscles for the activity at hand. It may also help improve your performance in an athletic event or exercise, not to mention calm your nerves before the big event!
Now that you have a few reasons to stretch, it’s time to know the different types of stretching you can do and which ones will benefit you the most.
The most common forms of stretches:
- Static stretches – involve holding a stretch in a comfortable position for a period of time, typically between 10 and 30 seconds. This form of stretching is most beneficial after you exercise. Use static stretches after exercise to reduce your risk for injury.
- Dynamic stretches – are active movements that cause your muscles to stretch, but the stretch is not held in the end position. These stretches are usually done before exercise to get your muscles ready for movement. Use dynamic stretches before exercise to prepare your muscles.
How To Start
The important thing to keep in mind if you are new to stretching is to take it slow. Don’t expect to have gymnast level flexibility in a day or a week or even a month. Your body will need to get used to the new activity and acclimate itself to what it is going through. If you push it too hard and end up sore, you may quit and give up.
You should also learn the proper techniques. This is where YouTube videos or yoga videos can come in handy. There’s no need for a fancy class unless you are so inflexible injury is a significant concern. Stretching is low/no impact, so it’s pretty to hard to hurt yourself unless you push it too much. None of us are the same, so learn what your body can handle before you try something and get injured.
While you can stretch any time during the day, you should definitely do it on the days you exercise. Aim for 5 to 10 minutes of dynamic stretching prior to your activity and do another 5 to 10 minutes of static stretching afterward. On days when you aren’t exercising, you should still plan to schedule at least 5 to 10 minutes of time for stretching. This can help improve flexibility and reduce muscle tightness and pain. If you don’t have time for that, consider easy stretches you can do while cooking, cleaning, waiting for the kids at the bus stop, or sitting in the car. You can easily stretch your triceps while you sit in the car, and your quadriceps while watching your food cook.
How We Do It
Get the kids involved! My daughter and I stretch together, usually nightly. While the TV is on and before dinner, we just sit on the floor and stretch. This is a weekend activity too, although we do it for much longer. My daughter uses her time to relax, gain flexibility, and tell me about her day. It’s a good time to spend with your kids! She also usees stretching to relax before she does a cheerleading show, a parade, or competes. She says it’s calming to sit quietly and focus on the muscles.
Whatever it may be, find your reason, and start stretching. Your body will thank you as it ages!
*This article is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to treat, cure, or diagnose any medical condition. Contact a medical professional if you have questions about exercise or starting a stretching routine. If you have an existing injury, speak to a doctor before attempting a stretching routine.