We all know the benefits of physical activity, but what about stretching? In this blog we cover what stretching is, the different types, and nine ways it can benefit your body (and mind).
What is stretching?
Stretching involves putting particular parts of your body in a position that lengthens or elongates the muscles (and along with them, the connective tissue, tendons, and ligaments).
The types of stretching
There are two main types of stretches—static and dynamic. Static stretching involves maintaining a steady position for an extended period of time while standing, sitting or lying down. Dynamic stretching, on the other hand, involves moving parts of your body in a fluid manner, whether that be in a circular, up and down or side to side motion.
Neither form is better than the other, they simply work the body in different ways. For example, dynamic stretches are more beneficial before you exercise as they prepare your muscles for movement, while static stretches are more beneficial after to cool your body down.
Benefits of stretching
Lengthening your muscles has many benefits for the body and mind. From increasing flexibility to relieving stress, discover what they are below.
1. Improves your flexibility
Regular stretching can increase your flexibility, or range of motion, which is essential for your overall health. Flexibility allows your body to work efficiently and effectively—helping you perform day-to-day tasks with relative ease and even delay the reduced mobility that comes with aging.
2. Decreases risk of injury
Performing dynamic stretches before you exercise can help prepare your muscles for the activity and reduce your risk of injury. To give you an example, if you tried to squat without warming up first, you’d struggle to sink as low; as a result of this shortened range of motion, you might lean forward or turn your knees in, both of which could cause stress on your back and joints. Dynamically stretching beforehand, however, gives you a better chance of efficiently executing the move.
3. Improves your performance in physical activities
Going off the last point, stretching before you partake in physical activity can also improve your performance when you move. This means you can make the most of, and reap the full benefits, of the activity.
4. Calms your body after exercise
It’s important to let your body cool down after you exercise. Static stretching, combined with deep breathing, can help you more quickly ease you out of the heightened state you were in while exercising.
5. Increases circulation and muscle blood flow
Getting the blood flowing to your muscles is essential for delivering oxygen throughout your body. Regular stretching can improve circulation which ultimately increases blood flow to your muscles, reducing your recovery time and muscle soreness.
6. Enhances posture
Stretching and strengthening specific muscle groups can reduce musculoskeletal pain and encourage proper body alignment. This, in turn, can enhance your posture.
7. Improves achiness
Sitting for long periods of time can cause certain muscles, like your hip flexors, to adaptively shorten and feel tight. Consistently stretching may help reverse that adaptive shortening and alleviate achy sensation by increasing flexibility in the muscle. Moving more in the day, even with little bursts of five minute stretching, can go a long way to improving achiness.
8. Relieves stress
Muscles tend to tighten when you’re feeling stressed. Stretching the areas where there’s tension, such as your shoulders, neck and upper back, can help alleviate stress and make you feel a lot better.
9. Calms your mind
Stretching is a great opportunity to practice mindfulness and give yourself a mental break. The key is to focus on your bodily sensations, including your breathing, to help keep your awareness in the present moment.