If you complete no other exercise today…just stretch.
Often when I’m encouraging people to become healthier by increasing their physical activity, I’m met with the same excuses. I don’t have the time, can’t afford the gym, don’t know where to begin, not as capable as I used to be.
Yet, stretching only takes a few minutes doesn’t cost anything, you can do it with little fitness knowledge, and it’s suitable for people of virtually all abilities.
What’s more, even if you are a total fitness-nut, stretching both before and after exercise will yield immense rewards.
Hence, I’ve put together this article which explains the benefits of stretching, the science behind its health-boosting properties and how it can elevate sporting performance.
Importance of Stretching
Whether you’re currently a couch potato or a marathon runner, stretching is crucial. This simple process can prevent injuries, boost heart function, raise mood and increase both mobility and flexibility.
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that for general fitness, you should stretch at a minimum three times per week. Furthermore, each muscle stretch should be held for between 15 to 20 seconds and repeated two to four times.
However, unless you’re suffering from an injury, there are no dangers to stretching every day. In fact, I would recommend it.
Times that are ideal for working those muscles are:
- Upon waking: the stretching process stimulates the mind and body into action to face the day ahead.
- Before activity: if you’re planning on gardening, decorating or even buying the groceries, stretching the muscles can reduce the risk of injury.
- At work: sitting at a desk all day or completing repetitive motions can damage muscles; stretching can relieve the pain.
- Before sleep: a tense body is one that promotes poor slumber; stretching relieves tension, allowing you to sleep soundly.
If you compete in sports or are getting fit at home, you should be stretching both before and after your activity begins. This helps to lower the risk of injury and “wake-up” the muscles before strenuous workouts.
Here’s a complete total body stretching routine video to complete before exercise.
What’s more, the evidence suggests that post-training stretching can prevent the onset of the painful DOMS (delayed-onset muscle soreness).
Why Do We Naturally Stretch After Sleep?
We’ve all done it.
Upon waking from a peaceful slumber, we sit up, elongate our back and stretch our hands and arms above our heads. What’s more, most of the time you complete this action involuntarily. It’s known as pandiculation.
The reasons behind this strange phenomenon are still not fully understood, although experts have suggested the following reasons for its occurrence.
It Reactivates Muscles, Tendons and Ligaments
While you rest your brain during the hours of slumber, the muscles enjoy their own restorative process.
During the day your body is (usually) on alert. Blood and nerve impulses continually flow to the muscles and tendons, allowing them to power you through movement. However, while sleeping, the body’s metabolism and myofascial (muscle powering) process slow down.
While in this state, proteins and hormones take over to repair and rebuild their precious tissues.
Just as you require some morning stimulation, so do the muscles: and that’s where pandiculation is essential.
Studies show that morning stretching reawakens muscles, tendons and ligaments and allows them to power you through the day.
Part of the Circadian Rhythm
Your body has its own internal body clock, the circadian rhythm, that regulates the waking-sleeping cycle every 24 hours.
Humans, animals, plants, fungi and even bacteria all have this biological timepiece.
Some people believe that stretching in the morning is part of this process. The pandiculation relocates muscles into their correct positions, increases blood supply and oxygenation, plus stimulates the brain into “active” mode.
Stretching in the Morning Can Just Feel Comfortable and Safe
Early humans were primarily nomadic people. That is, they would follow the herds and rains for the best chance of survival.
However, as we evolved and learned to both grow crops and breed animals in captivity, we developed a sense of residence. This lowered the risk of being attacked by wild beasts and stumbling upon competing tribes. Hence, leading to a safer lifestyle.
Today, our homes are our refuge, and somewhere we hopefully feel comfortable and secure.
There exists an opinion that morning stretching reflects this sense of security. That is, during stretching, we are theoretically making ourselves conspicuous and exposed to predators.
However, feeling safe in our houses and apartments, we have nothing to fear.
11 Benefits of Stretching
Male or female, young or old, fitness freak or sofa-slouch: everyone can enjoy the following benefits of stretching.
#1 Stretching Regularly Helps Coordination and Balance
As I’ve matured, I’ve noticed that I’m not quite as steady on my feet as I used to be.
Uneven sidewalks, high-curbs, and wet or icy ground can all be contributing factors to losing your balance. Then, if you throw into the mix a few bags of heavy grocery shopping and the problem is exacerbated.
The truth is, older people statistically are more likely to fall than those of younger years. Shockingly, 20-30 percent of mature people who experience a fall suffer injuries such as head trauma, bruises and hip fractures.
This increased level of risk is partly due to mental, sensory and physical changes that occur with age. Additionally, some environments aren’t adapted to an increasingly older population.
Research from the University of Bedfordshire indicates that stretching is an effective way to improve balance and coordination.
These benefits of stretching apply equally whether you’re just completing your daily chores, or taking part in competitive sports.
#2 Helps Improve Posture
If your daily routine includes slouching over a laptop for eight hours a day followed by binge-watching box-sets from your couch, then you’re not alone.
Studies show that the average person from the USA is in a seated position for around 13 hours every day.
These “unnatural” positions can induce muscle imbalances; creating a slumped and curved posture that can lead to musculoskeletal disease.
Furthermore, poor posture doesn’t just affect your outward appearance.
Scientists have shown that our bearing affects our blood flow; the delivery of oxygen to the muscles and how easily we can move.
The benefits of stretching include boosting your stance, enabling you to stand tall. Research shows that following a muscle stretching and strengthening program can improve pose and correct muscular misalignment.
#3 Increases Your Body’s Range of Motion
Poor posture, insufficient exercise and the wear and tear that older years can induce mean that our range of motion in our joints is restrictive.
If you’re into competitive sports, you know how annoying this can be. On the tennis court, for example, being unable to pull-back far enough for that backhand or reach high-enough for a smash can be frustrating (and prevent you from winning points).
Furthermore, in the home, it can mean that lifting the grandchildren or placing the groceries on the highest shelf in the cupboard are difficult to impossible.
An article, published in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, explains that regular stretching can increase joint mobility.
#4 Helps Prevent Injuries Such as Muscle Strains
Whether preparing for a marathon, taking a brisk walk or just bending over to tie your shoelaces; one of the key benefits of stretching is that it can prevent injury.
However, this is only usually applicable in preventing direct muscular stress issues, such as strains. Stretching will have little benefit in reducing the risk of broken bones during football, for example.
A strain occurs when a muscle is pushed outside its normal range of movement or overworked past its capacity. This results in tears in the tendons or muscles themselves, which then require time to rebuild.
Performing a stretching warm-up routine before exercise loosens the muscles and floods them with oxygen and nutrient-providing blood, lowering the strain risk.
#5 Makes Strenuous Activities Like Running, Tennis and Cycling Easier as It Prepares You for the Effort
When I wake up in the morning, I have to follow a routine to get myself ready for the day ahead.
Naturally, this starts with some stretching. But then, I follow it by preparing my breakfast, drinking at least two cups of coffee and watching the news on TV.
I find that this process kick starts my energy levels and stimulates the brain into action. There’s no way I could slide my legs out of bed and immediately start working. My body isn’t ready.
The same applies to strenuous exercises such as cycling and running. These activities place immense pressure on the muscles and heart. Diving straight into these intense sports can cause injury since “tight” muscles are being called on to stretch rapidly and repetitively.
Following a stretching routine before these activities will keep the muscles flexible, lean and long, preventing damage.
#6 Maintains and Increases Your Level of Flexibility in Your Joints
One of the benefits of stretching is that your flexibility increases. You don’t need to be a gymnast or Pilates guru to gain these advantages.
Research shows that the forces involved in stretching, lengthen the muscles and their connective tissues. This not only increases flexibility, but it also elevates performance levels when you complete these movements before sports.
#7 Develop ‘Body Awareness’ as You Stretch Various Parts of the Body
Some disciplines, such as yoga and Tai-Chi, emphasize that the body and mind are inextricably linked.
However, you don’t need to go to a remote Chinese temple to improve this symbiotic relationship.
The benefits of stretching include that it provides a type of physiological mindfulness meditation. But, only if you complete a routine with your full attention.
Instead of performing your stretching exercises while watching TV or listening to your favorite tunes, make this stretching your sole focus.
Concentrate intently on how the muscle feels like you both contract and extend it. Notice how tensing and releasing one particular muscle also affects other secondary parts of your body.
Also, be aware of your breathing during this movement.
Studies show that increasing body awareness can promote relaxation, relieve stress and generally make you more “in touch” with the world.
#8 Stretching Kick Starts the Muscles Including the Heart and Improving Circulation
I’ve already indicated that one of the vital benefits of stretching is that it awakens the muscles, preparing them for action.
However, it also stimulates the most important muscle, the heart.
As we age, blood flow to our muscles declines. This impedes the delivery of oxygen and nutrients, which can eventually lead to muscle loss.
Exercise, especially cardiovascular sports, can increase the strength of the heart and reverse this situation.
Yet, even simple stretching stimulates this vital organ.
This is of particular benefit if your current physical capabilities prevent you from completing a more strenuous exercise.
A recent study, published in the International Heart Journal, discovered that stretching individual muscles for one minute increased the subject’s heart rate and elevated overall blood circulation.
#9 Alleviates Stress – a Morning Stretch Will Give You a Positive Edge to the Day Ahead
If we feel stressed or anxious, we don’t just experience these emotions in our minds.
This is why people may refer to mental pressures as feeling “tense.” Research shows that our muscles reflect our state of mind.
Typically, our muscles contract in the neck and shoulders during periods of anxiety. If left unchecked, this can result in chronic pain.
A study from the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry demonstrates that stretching has relaxation benefits and can relieve stress. Furthermore, it explains that this has physiological effects too: decreasing muscle tension, lowering respiration rates and reducing blood pressure.
Here’s a video illustrating 10 morning stretches to help relieve stress.
#10 Stretching Every Morning – a Blueprint for Aging With Better Mobility and Who Knows…
One of the significant benefits of stretching for the older generation is that it can keep you feeling young.
Starting your day with some muscle extensions and contractions has the ability to:
- Elevate heart health, allowing you to remain active for longer.
- Improve circulation in the skin, which can delay the signs of aging.
- Boost your flexibility and range of motion: making chores and keeping up with the grandchildren easier.
- Take away stress which studies show can cause wrinkles.
- Improve balance and reducing the risk of accidents.
#11 Stretching Improves Your Sex Life
Whether male or female, experts explain that having a prolific sex life improves overall wellbeing, both physical and mental.
The benefits of stretching include elevating your sexual performance, desire and ability.
Firstly, we know that stretching reduces stress. The more relaxed you are, the higher the probability of fulfilling intercourse. Research shows that being tense can lead to male impotence and premature ejaculation.
Furthermore, in women, high levels of anxiety decrease perceived arousal, sex drive and ability to achieve orgasm.
Another benefit is that stretching increases blood flow. The clitoris and the penis rely on efficient blood delivery, for both function and pleasure.
Finally, stretching can turn average sex-sessions into exciting marathon-like events – apparently.
The cardiovascular improvements that stretching provides can elevate athletic stamina, allowing both partners to avoid fatigue and keep powering through. Additionally, the flexibility advantages mean that you can explore a more extensive range of sexual positions: without risk of muscle strains.
The bottom line:
Stretching makes you feel ALIVE!
By elevating posture, stamina, flexibility and reducing stress, it’s the simplest way of heightening your day-to-day vigor and vitality. What’s more, it’s free, and you don’t need to go to the gym.
Do’s & Don’ts of Stretching
The benefits of stretching indeed include that it’s a low-impact and low-risk exercise.
However, there are some essential guidelines to follow to achieve the maximum advantages, and reduce the chance of injury.
Here are my top tips:
- Warm-up first if possible, with some light jogging or walking: stretching while cold can lead to muscle strains.
- Breathe and relax, no holding the breath during a stretch.
- Work both sides of the body to ensure a balanced posture.
- Stretch before and after activity, sports or exercise.
- Complete stretches daily to increase the benefits.
- Concentrate on all the major muscle groups: legs, shoulders, arms, back and stomach.
- Hold each stretch for 15-30 seconds.
- Stretch if you have an existing injury, without consulting with your physician first.
- Use stretching techniques if you have a physical limitation that stops you from correctly performing an exercise; speak to your doctor for alternatives.
- Extend your muscles to the point where they become uncomfortable or painful.
- Overdo it, stretching is a form of exercise, so build up slowly.
- Bounce, stretching while bouncing can damage muscles.
- Stretch more than one muscle at a time.
Benefits of Stretching in the Morning & Beyond – Conclusion
In the mornings you often involuntarily wake and stretch. Let me tell you something: your body is dropping a massive hint.
You could consider stretching to be nature’s own exercise regime, one that has existed since the dawn of humans.
So, take your body’s advice.
Stretch in the mornings, evenings and before exercise or activity. In fact, there’s no wrong time. Doing so will yield surprising benefits to your body and mind. What’s more, it can even elevate bedroom intimacy.
As you’ve probably guessed, I’m passionate about stretching (and bedroom intimacy).
I know that if people just give it a try, they’ll wish they started a regime years ago – stretching that is – alright enough with the innuendo.
I really hope that you have thoroughly enjoyed my breakdown of the 11 benefits of stretching. Tell me your thoughts below in the comments section!
What’s more, if you believe this article will help others improve their overall health, then feel free to share it!