The Benefits of Stretching (and 4 stretches you need to do daily)
Did you know you can improve your health and fitness with just a few simple daily stretches? Sound too good to be true? It’s not! With just a few minutes spent each day engaging in these five simple stretches, you can experience all of the benefits of stretching. You’ll feel more energetic, revived, and ready to face your day.
What Are the Benefits of Stretching?
We’ve all heard you “should” stretch because it’s very important to stay flexible, especially as you age. But what are the real benefits, and why should you make it a daily habit?
1) It feels good— stretching allows you a few minutes of quiet time and the ability to make a mind-body connection.
2) It relieves stress— when you stretch, your body releases endorphins which wash over you with feel-good sensations.
3) It eases tension— stress and the pressures of everyday living cause your body to hold on to stress within your muscles. Stretching these muscles allows your body to release that tension and allows the stress to effectively exit your body.
4) It lengthens and strengthens muscles— your muscles become shorter when they are worked, and one of the keys to remaining flexible is to lengthen your muscles.
5) It allows more efficient movement— it’s much easier to move about when you’re limber.
6) It improves blood flow— making sure you get healthy blood flow to all your extremities is very important.
7) It betters your health—just by doing regular stretching, you can lower your blood pressure, strengthen your immune system, improve digestion, and even boost your metabolism.
How to Warm Up for a Stretching Routine
Even though stretching shouldn’t be strenuous, it’s a good idea to warm up your muscles before you begin. This way you can truly maximize the benefits of stretching. And, as always, be sure to check with your doctor to ensure you are healthy and cleared for exercise.
So, how do you warm up? Since you don’t want to stretch your muscles when they’re completely cold, try doing an activity that will gently raise your heartrate and get your blood flowing. Something like jogging in place, a quick walk, or arm circles coupled with a few body weight squats… All of these light activities allow your muscles to warm up and get primed and ready for some easy stretching.
4 Essential Daily Stretches
1. Downward Dog— this well-known yoga pose carries many benefits. Not only is it an excellent way to get your blood flowing, it involves your whole body. Begin on your hands and knees with your hands shoulder-width apart. Tuck your toes under and straighten your knees, lifting them off the ground, as you raise your hips upward. Stretch out your fingers and press your hands into the floor, especially your thumb and forefinger. Then straighten your arms and legs, without locking out your knees or elbows. Keep your head and neck in line with your spine and rotate your shoulders outward. Your body should form an inverted “v.” Guide your heels toward the floor and hold this stretch for a count of 5. Return to the starting position.
“If you struggle with Down Dog, be compassionate and patient with yourself; you are not the first person with tight hamstrings or weak arms. On the other hand, be diligent. Ultimately, Down Dog will start to feel so good that you will really empathize with the full-body joy that dogs display while doing the pose.” – Shiva Rea, Master Yoga Instructor
2. Side Bends— this stretch is especially important as it opens up your lungs. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and slowly raise your arms toward the ceiling until your hands touch each other. Next, bend your right arm and place your hand on your right hip. With your left arm, reach slowly toward the right while moving your hips to the left. Hold for a count of five and repeat on the opposite side.
3. Seated Spinal Twist— this stretch helps release tension in your back. It’s especially helpful for folks who sit at a desk all day. Sit on the ground with your legs extended in front of you. Next, bend your right leg, pulling your knee toward your chest, so your heel is flat on the floor next to the outside of your left knee. Twist your upper body to the right and place your right hand on the ground behind you. Inhale and hold the position for a count of five. Exhale and repeat on opposite side.
4. Extended Child’s Pose— this is another common yoga stretch that’s a great way to end your flexibility session. Begin on your hands and knees with the tops of your feet and toes flat on the ground. Gently allow your hips to move backward toward your ankles as you stretch your arms out straight in front of you. Keeping your head in line with your shoulders, spread your fingers and inhale. Hold for a count of five and return to your hands and knees.
These four stretches are a great beginning to your flexibility routine. Practiced daily, you should experience all of the benefits of stretching, including an improvement not only in health markers, but you should also enjoy better circulation and digestion, an elevated mood, and even increased energy.