Have you stretched today? If not, there are a multitude of reasons to get up from your desk, take a lap and then bend from side to side. With longer work days and more reasons to stress out, it seems everyone nowadays could use a good stretch.
Benefits of Daily Stretching
Warm up, cool down, wake up, fall sleep -- people stretch for lots of different reasons. While the theory stretching actually prevents injury from muscle strain is still up for debate, there are some more well recognized benefits of taking time to stretch. Here are the top five:
1. Flexibility -- This is probably the most obvious benefit of stretching. Flexibility means the body is less stiff and better able to complete one movement to the next with ease. Being flexible means you may be less likely to get hurt if, for example, you have to reach from the front seat of your car to the back for something you need. You'll also feel more comfortable throughout the day and have an easier time exercising.
2. Stress Reduction -- When you're stressed out or experiencing anxiety, you're likely to tense up your muscles, causing knots and pain. Stretching can help you release this tension and, in turn, feel more relaxed and calm. Stretching before bed is a great way to say goodbye to the worries of the day to sleep better throughout the night. Try lighting candles or using aromatherapy oils to further unwind.
3. Improved Circulation -- Proper circulation is essential to bring oxygen and vital nutrients throughout the body for proper function. Stretching does just that, sending blood to all the body's muscles. This may be one of the reasons stretching is thought to prevent injury, although an exact link hasn't been proven. Improved circulation is why you're encouraged to stretch in the morning or after sitting for a long prior of time to "get the blood flowing."
4. Greater Mobility -- With better flexibility comes better range of motion. By lengthening and stretching the muscles, you can improve the movement in your joints. This will help you not only when exercising, but in everyday movements like reaching for something on a high shelf or picking up items off the floor. This improved range of motion will help you lead a more active lifestyle.
5. Muscle Strengthening -- Regularly stretching the muscles can help make them stronger over time. This is why stretching is such a crucial component of physical therapy after injury. Stretching the muscles of a particular area, like the back for example, will allow you to better use them for support as well as motion. This may also help reduce pain and discomfort.
When the body is cold, the muscles are tense and you're preparing to exercise, dynamic stretching is best. Dynamic stretches are larger movements instead of held positions that could strain or tear the muscle. You want to loosen them up gradually. Some examples of dynamic stretches are hip rotations for the abdomen and lower body, windmills for the arms and back and head rotations for the neck and the top of the shoulders.
When you're done working out and the muscles have sufficiently loosened because of cardio or strength training, static stretches may be used to release any tension. Forward bends, the runner's stretch and twists of the back are all great static stretches for the end of a workout. Hold each one for 30 seconds to one minute (or longer).
If you're stretching first thing in the morning or before bed, the key is to be gentle on the body. Try some dynamic movements to get the blood flowing and then some deeper stretches, but ease into it. If at any point you feel intense pain, no matter when or why you're stretching, cease stretching immediately.
For anyone just starting out, stretching can be frustrating until you build up more flexibility. A towel is a great tool for beginners to put under the hips, knees or lower back and can help you go the distance, just like a resistance band. Foam blocks or even a stack of books can also help you get into different stretches. Another great way to warm the muscles is with massage oil. Giving your muscles a gentle massage will promote circulation.
Make stretching a part of your daily routine to keep moving easy. Get everything you need for a healthy lifestyle at eVitamins Canada and have a great weekend!