Originally published for Better Homes & Gardens by Nicole Clancy
From an early age, you’ve probably been reminded to stretch after workouts. Although stretching then is certainly important, it isn’t strictly for preventing pulled muscles. In fact, a regular stretching routine can lead to many total health benefits. “Stretching can help minimize aches and pains, improve posture and create more enjoyable movement experiences, both in the gym and in activities of everyday life,” says Jessica Matthews, D.B.H., M.S., NBC-HWC, an associate professor of kinesiology and integrative wellness at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, and author of Stretching to Stay Young.
If stretching isn’t currently an activity you make time for, these total-body health benefits may persuade you to start. Here are four reasons you should stretch more often, plus expert tips for incorporating it into your day-to-day routine.
1. It reduces aches and pains.
If your back and shoulders ache from sitting at a desk all day, take note: Research indicates that a regular stretching routine may actually lessen the pain you feel. When you move in and out of a stretch, your blood flow increases and lubricates your muscles and joints, which allows you to bend, extend, lift and twist more fluidly. Stretching also realigns your joints into the proper position, acting as a giant body reset. This means reducing pain due to pulled muscles, tendons and ligaments from being out of line. “Stretching helps improve circulation. You’ll also see improved posture, helping reduce aches and pains,” says Laura McDonald, an ACE-certified personal/group trainer and holistic health coach.
One important thing to keep in mind when stretching is to move your body in a controlled way that feels best to you. It shouldn’t cause excruciating pain, but a slight pull or burning sensation is normal, particularly if you aren’t very flexible.
2. It boosts mood.
Feeling overwhelmed or a bit blue? Moving your body, even in a gentle way like stretching, can signal your brain to release happiness-inducing chemicals. “Stretching helps vital hormones surge throughout your body, increasing blood flow and circulation to your muscles and brain, which contributes to a cheerier outlook and a clearer mind,” McDonald says. Try combining breathing and stretching (via a few yoga moves) to help you release worry and bring your attention to the present moment.
3. It decreases fatigue.
It can be tempting to reach for your favorite caffeinated beverage when you’re feeling sluggish. But instead of going for that refill, Matthews recommends doing a few dynamic stretches to increase your body’s temperature and quickly energize your mind and body. Dynamic stretches (like a lunge with a torso rotation) involve moving your joints through their range of motion in a continuous flow rather than holding a stretch.
4. It zaps stress.
Let’s be real: Life can be physically, emotionally and mentally stressful. “When we are stressed out, our muscles respond by tightening up and can even bring on tension headaches,” McDonald says. She recommends stretching the muscles where you’re holding stress like your back, neck and shoulders. As you stretch, picture yourself breathing out your stress with each exhalation. Deep breathing exercises can help alleviate stress and calm your racing mind.
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