In recent years, the practice of stretching has had a real PR problem and received a lot of negative press. Mostly because evidence is piling up that suggests stretching isn't as helpful for athletic performance and recovery as we used to think. That’s a whole controversy-filled topic we’ll save for another day. But regardless of whether stretching helps athletes win medals and break records there are loads of wonderful, health-enhancing (non-sports-related) reasons to stretch.
Every cat, dog and human in the world wakes up in the morning and does it. It's not just a morning ritual, it’s also a fantastic way to boost your overall well-being. Whether you're a yoga enthusiast, a person that sits too much, or just someone looking for a gentle way to improve your health and feel better in your body, stretching has got your back (and your hamstrings, and your heart too!).
Here are 6 great reasons to love stretching:
As you age, maintaining mobility is crucial for independent living. When you’re in your golden years, you still wanna be able to cut your own toenails, reach up to change your light bulbs and do up your own damn bra, right? Flexibility is important. Your MOBILITY is your ABILITY to do life on your own terms and live independently. Limited ranges of motion can impair your ability to perform the most basic everyday tasks. Stretching isn’t just about touching your toes, it’s about maintaining your independence as you age.
When it comes to your flexibility, it’s a ‘use it or lose it’ situation. Stretching can help keep you limber.
2) Heart Health
When you think about the best exercises for heart, you probably think about cardio – like running, cycling and HIIT. But researchers are taking a closer look at how stretching and mobility play into decreasing your risk of cardiovascular disease, and they’re discovering that stretching helps. A lot.
In the same way that our joints become stiffer and more inflexible with age, so do our blood vessels. Arterial stiffening is a part of aging that increases the workload for our hearts and increases the risk of cardiovascular issues. We’ve long known that cardiovascular exercise can help keep blood vessels supple and reduce heart rate and blood pressure, and current research has found that stretching does too!
Stretching helps keep your ticker running in tip top shape. A regular stretching practice can give you rewards that go way beyond improving flexibility.
3) Pain Relief
Stretching is like popping a natural pain killer. When you stretch, your brain floods your body with a slew of feel-good biochemicals like endorphins and cannabidinoids, that reduce pain sensitivity, making those twinges and tight spots feel a little less bothersome.
Plus, regular stretching can boost your pain tolerance and improve your coping mechanisms for dealing with discomfort.
There’s a really cool study that compares pain tolerance in seasoned yoga practitioners to people with no yoga experience. It discovered that yoga practitioners’ pain tolerance was double or more to that of non-yoga people. Why? Yoga practice seems to beef up a part of the brain called the insula that is responsible for processing bodily sensations. Adding density is in this part of the brain allows yogis to relate to and cope with pain better. Cool, cool, cool!
Feeling stressed? Take a stretch break. A good stretch sesh triggers your body’s relaxation response, reducing muscle tension, boosting blissful endorphins, improving blood flow, enhancing mindfulness and lowering cortisol levels.
Stretching engages your body’s natural relaxation pathways, creating an overall feeling of well-being and contentment. Like giving yourself a mini spa day, minus the hefty price tag. So, kick back, relax and unwind your muscles and mind.
5) Mind-Body Connection
Stretching isn’t just about touching your toes (although that’s pretty cool). It’s about tuning in to your body and developing a deeper sense of self-awareness.
By focusing on the sensations and movements of your body during stretching, you become more attuned to the present moment, and to changing status of your inner world. You can recognize the relationships between mental states and physical sensations. Your ability to be aware of and identify different kinds of bodily sensations translates into your ability to notice feelings like stress, anxiety or tension, and take steps to deal with them in the early stages and restore your body’s delicate balance.
Stretching can help ground you in the present moment and become more self-aware, resilient and to find more harmony between mind and body.
6) Feels Good
And that’s reason enough to stretch. You should do things that feel good and are good for you.
But why does stretching feel so good?
When you stretch you release muscle tension, stimulate blood flow, and send happy hormones coursing through your veins.
So there you have it, folks: 6 fantastic reasons to fall head over heels for stretching. And guess what? The benefits don’t stop there. Exciting new research is popping up all the time, revealing even more ways that stretching can supercharge your health and happiness. So, roll out your yoga mat, grab your foam roller and enjoy a good stretch.
Amanda Tripp, Yoga/body nerd and woman of a 1000 opinions