If you don’t stretch out those limbs regularly, you’ll want to make some room in your schedule to do so because stretching has a plethora of powerful health benefits that you simply won’t want to miss out on1Lindberg, S. (2018). 9 Benefits of Stretching: How to Start, Safety Tips, and More. Healthline. Retrieved 22 December 2021, from https://www.healthline.com/health/benefits-of-stretching.. While stretching may seem like a boring style of exercise, it is absolutely imperative for keeping your muscles flexible, strong, and healthy. This flexibility is needed to maintain a healthy range of motion, and this range of motion is needed to prevent your muscles from becoming shortened and tight, which can lead to injury and many other health concerns2The importance of stretching – Harvard Health. Harvard Health. (2019). Retrieved 22 December 2021, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-importance-of-stretching.. Not only that but stretching feels good! But not all stretching is created equal, nor is it something only gymnasts or athletes need to do. So, if you’re looking to enhance your overall health on a physical, emotional and mental level, we’ve got you covered.
Why Is Stretching Important
Alright, so we know why stretching is essential – it improves your range of motion, keeps your muscles healthy, and prevents the risk of injury. But why does this matter? To put it simply, many of us live a lifestyle that isn’t helpful to our bodies. For example, we sit 8-10 hours a day at work, only coming home and spending another 5 hours sitting on the couch watching Netflix. Sure, we might get a walk-in or a quick workout that can help, but the daily sitting makes it difficult for your lower body muscles to function correctly, which inhibits everything movement, such as walking.
Now, let’s say you aren’t a sitter and are quite active throughout the day. Without proper stretching, your muscles become tight and can even become damaged or injured.
So, in a nutshell, stretching regularly keeps your muscles nice and long, lean and flexible, which basically helps the rest of your body to stay healthy.
Benefits of Stretching
Numerous studies have been conducted on the benefits of stretching – and there’s certainly no shortage3Stretching is not a warm up! Find out why. Mayo Clinic. (2020). Retrieved 22 December 2021, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/stretching/art-20047931.. So to help you see the power of adding stretching into your daily regime, we’ve collected our favourite stats from studies, in addition to the benefits already mentioned.
Performing dynamic stretches before doing any physical activities is shown to help prepare your muscles for said activity. This is shown to have the potential to boost performance in both athletic events and exercise4Shrier, I. (2004). Does Stretching Improve Performance?: A Systematic and… : Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine. LWW. Retrieved 22 December 2021, from https://journals.lww.com/cjsportsmed/fulltext/2004/09000/does_stretching_improve_performance___a_systematic.4.aspx.. In other words, you get more out of your movements when you stretch first!
Boost blood flow to your muscles
Improved circulation is another major benefit of stretching regularly. By boosting blood flow to your muscles, you can also shorten your recovery time and reduce sore muscles5Miller, T. (2017). Why stretching is more important than you think. Wexner Medical Center. Retrieved 22 December 2021, from https://wexnermedical.osu.edu/blog/benefits-of-stretching..
Tone your muscles
Yes, stretching is also an excellent exercise that can shape and tone your muscles while also strengthening them. The key to achieving this is to hold your stretch for 30 seconds to allow enough time for the muscle to relax and elongate (for strengthening).
Improve your posture
Poor posture, including slouching and slumping, can cause muscle tension, back pain, joint pain, and reduced circulation. It can also result in breathing issues and fatigue, and just make you feel yucky overall6Hecht, M. (2020). Types of Posture: How to Correct Bad Posture. Healthline. Retrieved 22 December 2021, from https://www.healthline.com/health/bone-health/the-4-main-types-of-posture#effects-of-bad-posture..
Heal and prevent back pain
If you’ve ever experienced back pain, you don’t need me to remind you of just how debilitating it can be. Fortunately, stretching can help heal and prevent back pain by increasing your range of motion and ‘massaging’ the tight muscles causing your pain. Additionally, stretching can strengthen your back muscles, reducing your risk of strain and future injuries7Gopez, J. (2017). Stretching for Back Pain Relief. Spine-health. Retrieved 22 December 2021, from https://www.spine-health.com/wellness/exercise/stretching-back-pain-relief..
Calm your mind and release stress
While there are many benefits of stretching for your physical health, there are just as many for your mental health. Stretching has been proven to act as an excellent for of stress relief. When you become stressed, your muscles tend to tighten up and stretching them out can release all of that heavy energy and tension from your mind and body8The Simple Act of Stretching – Center for Healthy Aging. Columbine Health Systems Center for Healthy Aging. (2021). Retrieved 22 December 2021, from https://www.research.colostate.edu/healthyagingcenter/2021/06/23/the-simple-act-of-stretching/..
Improve your sleep
Speaking of stress relief, stretching can also help calm your mind and body before bed to allow for a deeper sleep and better sleep quality. The more you can get your body to relax, the better your sleep will be. So, stretch is out for those zzz’s.
Reduce tension headaches
If you suffer from tension or stress headaches, adding some stretching into your daily regime can help reduce the tension you feel in your head9Nunez, K. (2021). 5 Gentle Stretches for Migraine Relief. Healthline. Retrieved 22 December 2021, from https://www.healthline.com/health/migraine/stretches-for-migraine..
Types of Stretching
While it may seem like stretching is stretching, there are actually four different types:
- Active stretching: holding a pose to actively contract one muscle as a way to stretch an opposing muscle (think flexing the ankle black and forth to use the calf)
- Passive stretching: stretching that is relaxed and that uses an outside agent, such as a towel or band, to help you stretch
- Dynamic stretching: lively stretches that use momentum to flow through repeat movements
- PNF stretching: a set of stretching techniques that serve as a more advanced form of flexibility training, often performed by a certified stretch therapist.
Before you plunge into a deep stretching stance, it’s absolutely crucial to make sure you always do so safely and effectively, as stretching incorrectly can do far more harm than good. Use these tips to keep stretching healthy and safe:
- Always warm up your muscles before stretching to prevent risk of injury
- Get creative and keep stretching new and exciting by using different tools and devices, such as towels, bands, and blocks
- Focus on symmetry; having equal flexibility on each side to avoid risk of injury
- Concentrate your stretches on major muscle groups such as your thighs, calves, hips, lower back, neck and shoulders.
- Always give extra stretching attention to the muscles and joints that you use regularly
- Go with a smooth movement, instead of bouncing
- Practice holding your stretch for 30 to 60 seconds
- Incorporate your breathing into your stretching for a mind body connection
- If you feel pain, refrain (tension is normal)
- Keep your stretching consistent and regular to maximize the benefits
- Stretch at least two to three times a week
- Don’t skip on stretching, as this can decrease your range of motion
- Bring movement into your stretching
- Try stretching-styled workouts, such as tai chi or yoga
- If you have an injury or chronic condition, adjust your stretching techniques
- Bring wellness into your stretching practice with essential oils
- Create a stretching routine
- Try the different stretching techniques to see which ones you like best
- Add in some meditation as you stretch for a unique, mindful experience
- Don’t forget to stretch the little areas that hold a lot of tension, such as your jaw
- Stretch with friends or in a class to keep it fun
Auhhhh, stretching. It really does feel so good, and now that you know just how powerful it is for your mental, emotional and physical health, there’s really no reason to skip out on it. Whether you’re an avid gym-goer, seasoned athlete or retired couch potato, adding stretching into your daily regime can make a world of difference in the way you feel. And you only need to do it for 5 to 10 minutes to start harnessing the benefits.
- 1Lindberg, S. (2018). 9 Benefits of Stretching: How to Start, Safety Tips, and More. Healthline. Retrieved 22 December 2021, from https://www.healthline.com/health/benefits-of-stretching.
- 2The importance of stretching – Harvard Health. Harvard Health. (2019). Retrieved 22 December 2021, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-importance-of-stretching.
- 3Stretching is not a warm up! Find out why. Mayo Clinic. (2020). Retrieved 22 December 2021, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/stretching/art-20047931.
- 4Shrier, I. (2004). Does Stretching Improve Performance?: A Systematic and… : Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine. LWW. Retrieved 22 December 2021, from https://journals.lww.com/cjsportsmed/fulltext/2004/09000/does_stretching_improve_performance___a_systematic.4.aspx.
- 5Miller, T. (2017). Why stretching is more important than you think. Wexner Medical Center. Retrieved 22 December 2021, from https://wexnermedical.osu.edu/blog/benefits-of-stretching.
- 6Hecht, M. (2020). Types of Posture: How to Correct Bad Posture. Healthline. Retrieved 22 December 2021, from https://www.healthline.com/health/bone-health/the-4-main-types-of-posture#effects-of-bad-posture.
- 7Gopez, J. (2017). Stretching for Back Pain Relief. Spine-health. Retrieved 22 December 2021, from https://www.spine-health.com/wellness/exercise/stretching-back-pain-relief.
- 8The Simple Act of Stretching – Center for Healthy Aging. Columbine Health Systems Center for Healthy Aging. (2021). Retrieved 22 December 2021, from https://www.research.colostate.edu/healthyagingcenter/2021/06/23/the-simple-act-of-stretching/.
- 9Nunez, K. (2021). 5 Gentle Stretches for Migraine Relief. Healthline. Retrieved 22 December 2021, from https://www.healthline.com/health/migraine/stretches-for-migraine.