Ever noticed that blissful look on your pet’s face as they take a big long stretch after yet another nap.
I’m pretty sure that’s the face I pull when I’m doing Yoga too, because stretching feels so good.
But a lot of us don’t stretch nearly as much as we could.
We tend to prioritize our main workout and exclude the stretching.
But stretching really is just as important, if not more so.
There are so many benefits to be reaped from making this a regular routine.
Stretching supports muscle health.
By increasing blood flow and relaxing the muscles, it enables them to start to repair the minor tears that exercise causes.
Our bodies are so efficient. They will lengthen and shorten muscles accordingly to match the movements they do the most frequently.
So whether you’re sat at a desk all day, or running ultra marathons, your body will need to stretch those muscles used to enable them to be flexible for all the activities you want to do in life.
Stretching supports joint health.
The relaxation of tight muscles reduces strain on the joints.
Which not only aids and improves posture, but also gives freedom of movement, helping to reduce pain.
If you are an avid exerciser it helps prevent injury and improve sport performance too.
Stretching helps the circulatory system.
Working muscles engorge with blood, so they receive a good supply of oxygen needed for fuel.
After exercise stretching helps to dissipate the blood flow back around the body.
Stretching is good for mental health.
We know that stress causes muscle tension.
Static slow stretching triggers the parasympathetic nervous system (the rest and digest stage) helping to de stress and relax.
Applying deep slow breathing whilst stretching aids the muscles to relax more. And the potential to take the stretch deeper if you so wish.
Stretching helps get to know your body better.
One of the less talked about benefits is how stretching helps you connect better with your body.
To stretch you need to be bodily aware, as you need to stretch the right muscle, ensuring you are taking it to the correct point of tension.
The more you stretch the more aware you become. Bringing so many benefits beyond your workout.
Stretching is safe to do everyday.
Except I wouldn’t recommend it as the first activity you do when you get out of bed. The muscles are too cold then.
It’s better after some movement, when muscles are warmer and more pliable; they are elastic tissue after all.
The body is dehydrated after a night’s sleep too, so it’s good to get some water in first.
Especially for good spinal health, as the vertebral discs being mainly fluid are particularly affected by overnight dehydration.
The ACSM (American college of sports medicine) guidelines for flexibility state:
“Adults should do flexibility exercises at least two or three days each week to improve range of motion. Each stretch should be held for 10 to 30 seconds, to the point of tightness or slight discomfort. Repeat each stretch two to four times, accumulating 60 seconds per stretch”
My personal recommendation is to stretch in a way that feels good for you, making sure you hold your stretch for a minimum of 10 seconds.
Work your way through your body, especially the big muscle areas like thighs (front and back) shoulders, back and chest.
This could take no longer than 5 minutes per day, or, if you’re less pushed for time you could try a stretch class or yoga.
But I guarantee it won’t take very long for you to start feeling these benefits for yourself with a regular stretching routine.