Whatever time you have to try it out, the benefits of stretching are huge. Our bodies are made up of muscles and ligaments that are designed to be moved daily, but overuse will cause injuries and no movement or very little could mean stiff joints, less flexibility or bad posture.
So what are the benefits of stretching? From stress relief to better sleep we talk to the experts about how your body will reap the benefits after a quick stretching routine.
1. Stress relief
When we’re stressed not only does our heart rate increase but we tend to tighten our muscles. So, how can stretching help us relieve this tension? “Stretching helps relax tight muscles while also taking personal time to focus on your body and slow down,” said Cristina Chan, personal trainer and creator of F45 Recovery: “Moving intentionally and slowly allows you to take time to breathe, notice your surroundings, pay attention to yourself and decompress. When your breath and heart rate slows down, you become calmer.”
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. “Stretching keeps the muscles flexible, strong, and healthy. We need that flexibility to maintain a range of motion in the joints,” revealed ex-professional dancer Natalie Simmonds and now PT for VAHA, “Without it, the muscles shorten and become tight. Then, when you call on the muscles for activity, they are weak and unable to extend.”
The correct posture when we are sitting or standing can affect the whole body – your nerves, blood flow and muscles. But no one can blame us for not having the correct posture, especially if we sit at a desk all day. Emma White, a Pilates instructor at FLY LDN, recommends counteracting it with a front stretch, as well as a back stretch: “To bring the spine back into an upright position, stretching the muscles in the front alongside strengthening the muscles in the back, supports and holds the spine upright to improve and maintain optimal posture.”
White also added that sitting slumped in front of a computer can be uncomfortable, but also, “cause a muscular imbalance between the front and the back of the body. This is because the chest (pectoral) muscles start to shorten and tighten, while the muscles in the back start to lengthen and weaken.”
4. Alleviate back pain
If you’re someone who suffers from back pain, whether you’ve over-exercised, slept wrong, or have niggles now and again you could benefit from stretching your body. “Stretching can help to alleviate pain by loosening up tension in the muscles and increasing blood flow to the area,” said White, “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.” The pilates instructor also recommended stretching the Quadratus Lumborum for lower back pain: “The muscle is located on the lower back on either side of the spine and can benefit from being stretched, as it is often tight and overused by having to compensate for the other stabilizing muscles.” For other ideas, head to our feature on 10 stretches to do every day.
5. Better sleep
We know that sleep is important for our well-being – physically and mentally, the more sleep we get the more energized and focussed we’ll feel. But, for some of us, we find it hard to even drift off. So, can stretching before bed help? “Stretching, as part of yoga, can improve quality of sleep by reducing mental stimulation. When you’re still, or stretching and breathing we go from sensory overload to a sense of slowing down and a quality of ease begins to run throughout the body,” said Simmonds.
6. Injury prevention
When injury strikes it could sometimes mean weeks, if not months, out of our fitness routines, so stretching is a great way to make sure this doesn’t happen, as 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,” Chan told Live Science, “Better circulation translates directly to a quicker recovery aiding in relief of any post-exercise aches and pains.”
7. Preps the body for exercise
As well as injury prevention, stretching can be 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 like running or cycling,” White explains, while she goes on to reveal that 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. As movements such as running and cycling consist of many repetitive movement patterns, certain muscles can become overused and tight – for example the hip flexors. Static stretching after a workout can help to restore this muscle imbalance.”
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 static stretching activates your parasympathetic nervous system,” said Simmonds, “Your parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for your rest and digestion functions. It helps induce feelings of calmness and relaxation.” For more ideas on how to relax, take a look at our feature on breathing for relaxation: how to do it.