8 Amazing Benefits of Stretching
By, Brian Tully of Better Together Fitness
Our bodies are made up of muscles and ligaments that are designed to be moved daily. Overuse can cause injury. Little or no movement could mean stiff joints, less flexibility or bad posture. There are many benefits associated with gentle stretching movements. Below are eight specific benefits you can expect from a frequent stretching regimen.
1. Stress Relief
When we’re stressed not only does our heart rate increase but we tend to tighten our muscles. It is important to focus on deep breathing while stretching for maximum effect. The combination of breathing with stretching helps relax tight muscles and gives us time to focus on ourselves, creating a calming effect.
It’s not just ballet dancers or yogis who can learn to be flexible. Stretching every day or a couple of times a week can help to keep the muscles supple. We need that flexibility to maintain the range of motion of the joints. Without that flexibility, the muscles shorten and become tight causing them to become weak and unable to extend when we need to use them.
The correct posture when we are sitting or standing can affect the whole body. Everything from the nervous system to blood flow and muscles. But it is hard to maintain correct posture, especially if we spend too much time in one position all day. For instance, sitting slumped in front of a computer can cause a muscular imbalance between the front and the back of the body. This is because the chest muscles start to shorten and tighten, while the muscles in the back start to lengthen and weaken. Taking mini-breaks to stretch out the front of the body can help maintain the balance needed to maintain good posture, not only in that position but throughout the rest of the day too.
4. Alleviate Back Pain
If you’re someone who suffers from back pain, whether you’ve over-exercised, slept wrong, or something else, you could benefit from stretches. Stretching can help to alleviate pain by loosening up tension in the muscles and increasing blood flow to the area. For mid and upper back stiffness, dynamic stretches such as the ‘cat-cow’ or the ‘thread-the-needle’ stretch can help to gently mobilize the spine and stretch the muscles that surround it. For low back stiffness, dynamic stretches of the muscles below and above the hips can pay big dividends toward relief.
5. Better Sleep
We know that sleep is important for our well-being, both physically and mentally. The better the sleep we get, the more energized and focused we feel. For some people it is hard to get to sleep, because it is difficult for them to relax or find a comfortable position. Stretching before bed can help with both of those things. When you're stretching and breathing you go from sensory overload to a sense of slowing down and a reduction of mental stimulation. And the stretching, allows the muscular tightness and imbalances of the day to be put at ease. Putting you in a more receptive state mentally and physically for quality sleep.
6. Post Workout Recovery
When injury strikes it could mean weeks, if not months, out of our fitness or daily life routines, so stretching is a great way to make sure this doesn’t happen. It increases blood supply and oxygen to your muscles and joints, allowing greater nutrient transportation, and improves the circulation of blood throughout the entire body. Better circulation translates directly to quicker recovery, which aids in relief of any post-exercise aches and pains that could inhibit quality movement in your daily routine. Movements such as running and cycling consist of repetitive movement patterns, that can cause certain muscles to become overused and tight; the hip flexors are a perfect example. Stretching after a workout can help to restore mobility and alleviate this potential muscle imbalance. These kinds of imbalances can inhibit movement patterns which can then lead to compensation and possible injury.
7. Ready to Exercise
Not only is stretching beneficial after exercise, but it is also a great way to get the body ready for exercise, especially if you’re putting it under a lot of strain. Dynamic stretching increases blood flow to the muscles and is a great way to prepare the body for more intensive exercise. It can also enhance physical performance, by stretching our muscles, it can increase the mobility of the joint, therefore maximizing the potential of the muscle to produce more force and absorb outside forces.
8. Mental Clarity
Sometimes we just need a way to mentally digest the day and calm our bodies and mind down. Research has shown that stretching activates your parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for your ability to rest. It can help induce feelings of calmness and relaxation. And honestly, who couldn’t use more calmness and mental clarity these days.
There you have it, eight amazing benefits of including stretching in your life, allowing you to move better, feel better, and live better. As always, if you have any questions or other thoughts to share, I would love to hear from you!