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15 Ways Stretching Improves Your Health and Boosts Your Brain

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Most people know that stretching promotes better flexibility, but there’s actually an extensive list of benefits stretching provides. No matter who you are, stretching can benefit your health, and this has been proven in scientific studies. Regular stretching improves your posture, heart health, treats pain, improves fitness, relieves stress and boosts your energy and mood. It’s one of the easiest ways to start improving your health, and it has many mental health benefits as well.

Stretching isn’t just a warmup for exercising. Whether you exercise or not, stretching can make a difference in your physical fitness level by improving muscle coordination and alignment, and by releasing tension and supplying the muscles with better blood flow. You don’t need a lot of time to make stretching a daily habit, and you’ll start seeing the benefits quickly. Here are 15 benefits of stretching for your body and mind:

1. Increases Your Flexibility and Range of Motion

It’s no secret that we lose our range of motion as we age. Keeping your muscles and joints flexible with routine stretching allows you to preserve your range of motion so you can bend, twist and reach to accomplish everyday tasks with ease. If you’ve already lost range of motion in your joints and flexibility in your muscles, you can regain it through consistent stretching.

2. Increases Circulation

The flow of blood through your body is one of the most paramount aspects of overall health, as the blood is responsible for transporting life-giving oxygen and nutrients to cells, muscles and organs. When blood flow is stagnant, toxins can build up in your system, excess liquid can start to pool and cause swelling, and your brain can become starved of adequate oxygen and glucose levels.

Every muscle you stretch, you stimulate blood flow in the area. By going through a full stretch routine of every muscle group in your body, you can significantly increase your oxygen levels, which boosts your mood and energy levels while releasing stress and tension. It also prepares your body for exercise at the beginning of a workout by oxygenating your muscles and providing them glucose for energy.

3. Relieves Stress

Stretching relieves stress by relaxing your muscles, oxygenating your body and brain and allowing your mind to connect with your body. When you experience stress, your muscles tense up, preparing for a “fight or flight” response to a crisis. Stretching releases this tension by reversing the contraction of muscles. Stretching is the lengthening of a muscle, and a muscle can’t be lengthened and tight at the same time.

Being intentional about relaxing and relieving stress while you stretch makes it even more effective for stress relief. Take long, deep breaths as you stretch and allow your mind to just focus on the sensation stretching creates in your body.

4. Releases Muscle Tension and Tightness

When not released, muscle tension can lead to pain and stiffness, and increase your risk of injury when you go to exercise. Muscles contract when we use them, and failing to stretch after a workout could leave them in a tight, contracted state. Over time, this ongoing tension can cause tight muscle knots that become harder and harder to work out. Stretching lengthens contracted muscles, releasing their constriction and the feelings of tightness and achiness that accompany it. It also prevents muscle knots from developing or worsening.

5. Boosts Your Energy Levels

By improving circulation, stretching increases the flow of oxygen throughout your body, allowing muscles and organs to function more efficiently. It gives them energy and facilitates the release of toxins so that you feel more youthful and invigorated. Higher oxygen levels in your brain also translate to better mental power. When you feel like your brain isn’t “awake” in the morning or you experience an afternoon bout of “brain fog,” taking the time to stretch can boost your mental clarity. The better flow of blood also increases the delivery of nutrients like glucose to your muscles and brain so that they have the energy to function better. Low energy levels cause muscles to tighten, whereas stretching helps keep fatigue at bay.

6. Uplifts Your Mood

By elevating oxygen levels in the brain, stretching has the effect of lifting your mood. When you hold tension in your muscles, that tension is held in your mind as well. Research shows that releasing muscle tension translates to feelings of calmness and well-being, so getting in a morning stretch could help get your day off to a better start.

7. Improves Your Posture

When muscles are tight and contracted for prolonged periods, such as when you slouch in a chair for hours a day, it can cause your body’s skeletal alignment to shift. This is often a source of aches and pains, especially in joints like your knees and ankles. Stretching keeps your muscles loose enough to maintain their proper alignment, so you can have better posture. When your posture improves, not only do aches and pains reduce, but also you feel more confident and can look your best.

8. Improves Muscle Coordination

Muscle coordination is your ability to use your muscles with smooth and accurate control. Stretching regularly helps you maintain a better range of motion and improve your muscle coordination. This can improve your balance and make you less prone to injury from falls as you age. It also helps you at any stage of life to improve athletic performance, stay agile, and move with grace.

9. Prevents Muscle Soreness and Speeds Up Workout Recovery

After exercise, your muscles need to get rid of waste byproducts. Stretching helps flush them out by increasing blood supply in the muscle tissue. When there’s not enough fresh blood entering the muscle tissue after a workout, lactic acid buildup leads to muscle soreness the next day. Stretching after a workout helps prevent this, and it allows your muscles to recover quicker to get stronger for the next workout [1].

10. Boosts Athletic Performance

Stretching your muscles before an athletic event or training session prepares your muscles to perform optimally. It increases oxygenation in your muscles, which allows them to work harder and longer. It also increases your range of motion and mobility so you can lunge deeper, jump higher and bend farther.

11. Helps Treat Back Pain

When the muscles in your back get tight and stiff, they can easily strain when you go to use them. Loosening your back and allowing blood to flow between the vertebrae of your spine not only increases your back’s flexibility, but also helps heal aches and pains.

12. Prevents and Treats Tension Headaches

Tension headaches can happen when there’s not enough blood flow to your head, or when you have excessive back, neck or shoulder tension. Stretching can help release the tension contributing to a tension headache and get fresh blood flow circulating through your head.

13. Improves Heart Health

Research suggests that stretching not only loosens your muscles, but also reduces stiffness in your arteries. In a 4-week study on healthy middle-aged men, stretching reduced arterial stiffness and lowered their risk of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). Arterial stiffness is a major contributing factor to your overall risk for heart disease, heart attack and stroke, so by promoting better arterial health, stretching regularly can help keep your heart healthy and strong.

14. Improves Blood Sugar Levels

It’s known that exercise improves your blood sugar levels, but research indicates stretching has the same effect. In a study, people with type 2 diabetes and prediabetes consumed a sugary drink and then either stretched for 40 minutes or didn’t stretch at all. The results showed that the group who stretched after consuming sugar had significantly lowered blood glucose levels compared to the groups that didn’t [2].

15. Lowers Your Injury Risk

Stretching isn’t a fail-safe method for preventing injuries, but research suggests it helps your muscles function better. Muscle functioning that is more fine-tuned can improve your balance and even help you avoid falling. In a study, college students were put on a stabilometer, which is a machine that tests your stability and balance as you stand on it by providing turbulence. Half the group stretched for 30 minutes before the stabilometer test, and the other group didn’t. The results showed that the participants who stretched stayed balanced 11 percent longer than participants who didn’t stretch [3]. This evidence suggests that daily stretching could help prevent injuries caused by “freak accidents” for people at any age. It could also help prevent elderly individuals from falling, which is the number one cause of injury-related death in senior citizens.

Final Considerations

Stretching is a stress-busting activity that helps improve your physical fitness level and protect against threats like heart disease, falling, diabetes and back pain. With daily practice, you can start seeing improvements in your flexibility within a week or two. The boost you get in your mood and energy levels, however, are instant when you take just a few minutes to stretch and get your muscles loose.

References:

1. Stretching to prevent or reduce muscle soreness after exercise

2. Four weeks of regular static stretching reduces arterial stiffness in middle-aged men

3. Acute stretching increases postural stability in nonbalance trained individuals

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