© Hongqi Zhang (aka Michael Zhang) | Dreamstime.com
One of the major benefits of stretching involves emotional and mental health: It makes you feel good. Think about how you feel after you’ve been sitting at a desk for several hours, or when you get up out of your seat after a long plane flight: You’re stiff. But once you stand and stretch, you begin to feel better.
For the same reason, most of us stretch (to varying degrees, of course) as soon as we get out of bed. Stretching releases stiffness and prepares our muscles for the tasks ahead. Anything that tenses our body—including work or family stress—can find relief in the benefits of stretching.
Benefits of Stretching: Muscle Prep and Cool-Down
According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), stretching helps prepare your muscles for exercise. The benefits of stretching extend to your cool-down period, too, says the AAOS; stretching helps remove lactic acid, which results from your body using up glucose for energy.
But the benefits of stretching go beyond athletic performance. Even for non-athletes, daily stretching maintains muscle flexibility and improves the range of motion in our joints. If you overdo it, though, you can negate any benefits of stretching: You don’t want to get to the point of pulling muscles. In fact, among the benefits of stretching is minimizing the chance of injury.
“There are many factors that can limit or enhance movement, including prior tissue damage, strength, stability around the joint, and, of course, flexibility,” says Lisa Wheeler, vice president of fitness programming for Daily Burn. “That’s where stretching comes in. If the muscles around the joint aren’t flexible, it’s difficult to move efficiently.”
The American Council on Exercise lists these benefits of stretching:
- Decreased stress
- Enhanced performance
- Enhanced range of motion
- Improved blood flow and circulation
- Improved health
- Improved muscular function
- Improved quality of life
- Minimized wear and tear on joints
- Reduced pain and stiffness
- Reduced risk of injury
Body-Wide Benefits of Stretching
With regular stretching, you can build your muscles, strengthen joint flexibility, and practice mindfulness. And, yes, it sounds like yoga. Yoga is built on stretching—and those who practice yoga regularly can attest to the benefits of stretching daily. (See our post “Yoga for Beginners: How It Benefits Your Body, Mind, and Spirit.”)
he well-known yoga position Downward Dog stretches your hamstrings, the muscles in your mid-back, calves, arches, hands, and the muscles in your shoulders. According to Yoga Journal, Downward Dog calms the brain and helps relieve stress and mild depression.
The benefits of stretching increase as you age, as we naturally become more stiff. “Flexibility is about enjoying your life,” according to a statement from Silver Sneakers, the program that encourages older adults to remain physically active. “By increasing your range of motion…, you’ll feel less stiff and more comfortable going about everyday activities like walking, lifting, bending, and even driving.”
Stretching improves posture, circulation, and balance, and relieves pain and stress.
Prepare to Stretch
While there’s some debate on whether it’s safe to stretch “cold” muscles, the bottom line is that you’ll get the most benefits of stretching by warming up a bit first before you begin your stretching routine. A warm-up for stretching can be as simple as a five-minute walk that gets your heart pumping and blood circulating.
When you begin your first stretch, go easy. If your goal is to touch your toes but you can get only as far as your knees, so be it. With repetition—daily stretches of 10 minutes a day—your muscles and joints will strengthen and you’ll reach those toes.
A little at a time—but don’t spend the whole 10 minutes on one stretch. Your goal should be to stretch each muscle group every day. Make the stretch gradual and go as far as you comfortably can, but don’t push it to pain. If you try to force a stretch, you’re not going to gain the benefits of stretching and you may injure yourself.
Among the most basic stretches is the hamstring stretch, which stretches your neck, back, glutes, hamstrings, and calves. According to self.com, here’s how to do it:
- Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent, arms by your sides.
- Exhale as you bend forward at the hips, lowering your head toward floor, while keeping your head, neck and shoulders relaxed.
- Wrap your arms around backs of your legs and hold anywhere from 45 seconds to two minutes.
- Bend your knees and roll up when you’re done.
Get started on daily sessions and you’ll begin to maximize the benefits of stretching—and find an overall improvement in your life physically and mentally.
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