If done right, this effortless exercise can strengthen your mind and body.
By Olivia DeLong
Regular stretching isn’t just for yogis or marathoners. Routine stretching is beneficial to almost everyone. The habit can help you sleep, reduce the risk of injury and much more.
Busy schedules make it tough to add yet another to do to your list, but luckily, just a few minutes of daily stretching can work wonders. “As long as you’re getting in a 10 to 15 minute stretch session per day, you’ll see the benefits stretching has to offer,” says certified athletic trainer Michael Payne of Doctors Hospital of Augusta in Georgia.
Here are 5 benefits of stretching, safety tips and easy ways you can incorporate this important habit into your life starting today.
Feeling drowsy or heavy-eyed? Stretching can help kick-start your body, and wake you up. “During a stretch, your body senses the change in the muscle length and movement. And it prepares itself to become active by increasing blood flow. Increased blood flow throughout the body actually helps you feel more awake and alert,” says Payne.
As you age, your muscles naturally begin to tighten up, which can lead to limited or painful body movement during normal day-to-day activities like getting something from a high shelf or bending over to pick up your toddler, says Payne. Tight, shortened muscles are weaker, and that makes it difficult for them to perform as they’re supposed to. Tightened muscles may result in conditions like low back pain or sciatica, a pressure on the sciatic nerve that can cause pain, numbness and burning sensations down the back of the thigh, lower leg and foot.
Stretching regularly loosens tight and weakened muscles, and sends them back to normal length, so they can move more effectively.
Hectic days can definitely cause some stress. “Stretching allows you to take a break from a stressful day or to destress after a long work day,” says Payne. Combined with deep breathing, stretching will help decrease your heart rate and stabilize your blood pressure, leaving you in a more relaxed state.
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For years, athletic coaches and trainers have encouraged stretching before physical activity. Recent studies show that warm-up stretching may not necessarily prevent injuries—but having flexible muscles will.
Regular stretching throughout the day increases your flexibility, and that can reduce the risk of injury in general. According to The American Council on Exercise, flexible muscles are less likely to become injured while moving about. And since stretching increases your joint’s range of motion, too, it may help decrease the resistance on your muscles during exercise.
A regular stretching routine may help you get better ZZZ’s at night. Studies show that women who stretch out their knots and kinks regularly fall asleep faster than those who don’t.
The types of workouts you’re doing and the types of aches and pains you have, will determine the type of stretches that are most beneficial to you.
The most common types of stretches are dynamic, functional movements, and static, stretch and holds. If you’re planning to do rigorous exercise like running, stretching dynamically—with movements like high knees—can be helpful. “Dynamic stretching works on flexibility, range of motion and strength, while static stretching increases flexibility,” says Payne.
If you’re starting a new stretching routine, try static stretching to increase your flexibility, then work your way up to dynamic stretching and more rigorous exercises.
Since it only takes 10 to 15 minutes a day to reap the benefits of stretching, you can get creative with when you stretch. Plan out when you’re going to stretch the day before so you’re sure to set aside time for it.
Stretch on your lunch break or before or after a shower. “Waking up 10 minutes earlier to stretch after your morning shower is a good way to help you wake up and to get your mind ready for the day. And stretching after your nightly shower or bath is a good way to destress after a long day,” says Payne.
To get the most out of stretching, you need to practice proper techniques. Holding you stretches for 30 seconds is the amount of time required to safely stretch out the muscle, says Payne.
Avoid bouncing, which can actually cause pain or strain to the area. “As you bounce, you let go of the stretch and your muscle relaxes. When you go back down, you can stretch that muscle too much.”
Avoid holding your breath, and relax. “Breathing helps muscles relax for a better stretch, and it will put you in a more relaxed state, too,” says Payne. If you experience any pain, you’ve stretched it too far. Back off until it feels comfortable.