We’ve all heard about stretching ahead of an exercise, but stretching is also very good exercise on its own. Sometimes overlooked or viewed as “too easy”, stretching-based exercises are some of the most valuable for your health and fitness, particularly as you age.
There are over 650 skeletal muscles in the body that make movement and circulation possible. You use muscles when you walk, but even when you’re not thinking about it, your internal organs (like your heart!) use muscles to keep you alive.
When muscles aren’t being used (for example, leg muscles, if we sit for long periods), they become tight, and short. This can put pressure on your joints, making you less flexible. But when we stretch, we lengthen and strengthen those muscles, and we help send oxygen and nutrients to the rest of our body.
For as little as 10 minutes at a time, and no equipment required, just look at the benefits of stretching:
For your body
- Improves range of motion and flexibility so you can move, whether it is walking, dancing or working in the garden.
- Stretching is like a massage for the inside of the body! When you stretch properly, you increase circulation of blood throughout the body (bringing your internal organs more oxygen and nutrients).
- Stretching also stimulates the flow of lymph through your immune system. This helps eliminate toxins, boost your immune system and give you more energy.
- Improves balance (and thereby, helps decrease potential injury) by improving small muscle co-ordination. Stretching exercises for your feet and ankles are particularly important for preventing a tumble or a sprain.
- Helps correct posture by lengthening tight muscles that pull areas of the body away from their intended position. This is particularly good for those who get “rounded shoulders” by hunching over a computer.
- Reduces muscle soreness overall by increasing blood and nutrient supply to the muscles.
For Your Mind
Researchers believe that stretching releases tight muscles and thereby “trick the body” into feeling more relaxed. A little bit of stretching can calm the mind, provide a mental break, and give your body a chance to recharge.
Classic Stretching Exercise
Yoga combines physical postures, stretching exercises, breathing techniques, and meditation that improve flexibility, muscle strength, and range of motion. There are various yoga styles. Yin Yoga is particularly focused on long, slow stretches.
Pilates is a body conditioning routine that enhances flexibility, improve endurance, tone muscles, and strengthen the body’s “core” (torso). Some Pilates exercises require specialized equipment, but most can be done on the floor with a mat.
Tai Chi is a mind and body practice that involves shifting the body’s weight through a series of postures and rhythmic movements combined with mental focus, breathing, and relaxation techniques. Practicing tai chi can enhance flexibility, improve balance, and build muscle strength.
Remember, stretching should never be forced. You should be able to relax into a stretch. If you’re in pain, you’re doing it wrong.