Much emphasis has been placed on exercising your body for health and longevity. The U.S. even makes a recommendation of how much exercise you should get each week.
Yet, there’s no official national recommendation for stretching. It’s often mentioned as a sidenote to exercise. Perhaps that’s why just 10 percent of Americans stretch on a regular basis, according to data from Statista.
But that’s changing now: Stretching is in!
Health experts and institutions are touting stretching as important for posture, mobility, and healthy aging, in addition to being important to do before and after exercise. In fact, regardless of an exercise routine, Harvard Medical School recommends that adults do flexibility exercises (stretches, yoga, or tai chi) for all major muscle-tendon groups at least a couple times a week, and preferably more.
Ideally, we should stretch every day, whether that’s around a workout routine, first thing in the morning, before bed, or at the office.
The Benefits of Stretching
There are many benefits of stretching. If you start stretching every day, you’ll be helping your muscles to stay healthy, strong, and flexible – and that flexibility will help you maintain a healthy range of motion in your joints.
When you lose flexibility, your muscles shorten and become tight. Then, when you need those muscles, they’re too weak to extend all the way, putting you at risk for pain, strain, and muscle damage. Damaged muscles can put you at risk for joint injury.
Stretches can help relieve tension, especially if you sit at a desk all day. A few good stretches can help loosen your shoulders and neck and keep your back and hip flexors from getting too tight. Among the many benefits of stretching, it increases blood flow, which is necessary for healthy brain function as well.
If you’re active, stretching can help to improve your joint range of motion and your athletic performance, while decreasing your risk of injury.
Are you ready to enjoy the benefits of stretching?
It’s good to do static stretches before exercise. Static stretches are the kind that are performed in a stationary position with a sustained hold to lengthen the muscle.
Interestingly, studies in recent years show that they may not be the best to do pre-workout, or before participating in high-level sports. In fact, static stretching can actually decrease athletic performance, and stretching immediately before an athletic event has been shown to weaken hamstring strength. Also it isn’t a good idea to do sustained hold stretches when your muscles are cold as it could lead to an injury.
Instead, dynamic stretches are now preferred pre-workout, or a combination of dynamic and static stretches.
As the name implies, dynamic stretching is performed while moving, often doing some of the movements that you’ll do in the sport, workout, or activity you plan to engage in.
Imagine swimmers and how they swing their arms around prior to getting in the water, or a runner doing lunges prior to a run. They’re doing dynamic stretches.
The movement helps to increase blood flow and warms the muscles, while loosening joints and easing pain. This helps to increase range of motion, reduce injuries, decrease stiffness, and boost athletic performance.
Pre-Workout Dynamic Stretches
Try some arm circles and shoulder rolls if you’re going for a swim. Or if you run, do some leg pendulums, which means swinging each leg back and forth about a dozen times, or you can swing your leg side to side. Walking lunges are also a great dynamic stretch.
While they may be discouraged pre-workout, static stretches are wonderful after a workout. Your boosted circulation post-workout brings blood to your muscles and joints, allowing for greater flexibility. Stretching can also relieve tired muscles by helping to release lactic acid that builds up during your workout and speeds up recovering time.
Consider doing a round of static stretches for your hamstrings, glutes, quads, shoulders, triceps, and wrists. Of course, you can tailor your routine to stretch the muscles used in your workout. A coach, personal trainer, or physical therapist can be helpful in that regard.
The Classic Hamstring Post-Workout Stretch
Sit on the ground with both legs straight out in front of you, bend the left leg and place the sole of the left foot alongside the knee of the right leg. Allow the left leg to lie relaxed on the ground, bend forward keeping the back straight.
You’ll feel the stretch in the hamstring of the right leg. Then, do the same for the other leg.
There are real dangers to sitting for prolonged periods. Spending hours hunched over a desk does a number on your back, hips, neck, and shoulders.
Stretching at your desk can help to alleviate the tension and stiffness. Here are a couple of desk stretches to help. You can find many more online – or ask your physical therapist.
Sitting tightens your hips and lower back. Try this to open them up.
- Sit on the edge of your chair with your feet hip-width apart, directly under your knees.
- Cross one ankle over the opposite knee.
- Gently stretch forward.
Half Downward Dog
This full-body stretch is a well-known yoga pose and is excellent for your hamstrings.
- Stand facing the back of your chair.
- Place your hands on the back of the chair.
- Step back as far as you can.
- Try to keep your arms and legs straight as you stretch your spine.
Don’t Stretch Your Limits
If you’ve been sedentary and/or have physical limitations or injuries, consult a doctor or physical therapist before you start stretching. If you do too much too soon or stretch incorrectly, you could hurt yourself.
Over time, your flexibility and range of motion will surely improve, provided you’re stretching correctly.
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