The discussion on keeping active, healthy and fit usually centers around two categories of movement, anaerobic and aerobic. You either do resistance training in the gym or exercise that gets your heart rate up, like running or rowing. But there’s a third kind of activity usually considered to be the preamble to an exercise session: stretching.
Stretching isn’t just about warming up, it’s a valuable component of any exercise regimen in and of itself. Celebrities and fitness instructors often use stretching activities, like Pilates or yoga, in their regimens because of the additional benefits it offers. This is how stretching improves your day to day life.
Most people in Western countries lead incredibly sedentary lives. Our days are spent in front of computers that simply don’t require us to engage in any kind of strenuous movement. While this might seem like a good thing, our bodies evolved to be constantly on the move, seeking out new sources of food and shelter, and so going extended periods without movement can actually harm us in the long-term, making it more likely that we will experience muscle and joint pain.
One of the good things about stretching, however, is how it helps to ameliorate these problems. Stretching forces the muscle and joints to open up, allowing in nutrients, and potentially reducing pain if done consistently enough.
As we age, we become less flexible, thanks to a loss of cellular materials that give our bodies their elastic quality. Once this happens, injury becomes more likely, since we are less able to quickly move from one position to another.
However, even though a loss of flexibility is age-related, it doesn’t mean that there’s nothing you can do to slow down the process. Stretching helps to prevent injury by keeping joints flexible and supple for longer, allowing you to play your favorite sports without worry.
As you develop your flexibility, other things start to improve as well, including coordination. As anybody who has done yoga or Pilates in the past will tell you, many flexibility disciplines require a highly developed sense of balance.
Chronically tight muscles can eventually lead to poor posture over the decades, which itself can cause additional pain. Stretching out your muscles helps to stretch out muscles and return them to their intended position on your skeleton. Problem areas include the chest, the back, and the neck. Stretching these areas regularly keeps muscle fibers long and helps to prevent them from contorting your spine and ruining your posture.
The effects of stretching aren’t limited to the body: they affect the mind too. If you have a stressful day job or family life, stretching can help to reduce tension and put your mind at ease. Stretching has long been associated with tranquility and peace, but the way it works is similar to most other forms of exercise: it helps regulate the release of “feel-good hormones” into the bloodstream. To experience the effects, try stretching for at least 15 to 20 minutes per day.