‘If stretching were wealth, the cat would be rich’ – African proverb
We all know that we need to stretch before and after exercise but did you know that stretching has other benefits as well, including for our mental health? We spend hours in front of a laptop, glued to our mobile phones, sitting in one position in a car or in front of the TV. All of these things can result in pain, strains and stiffness. Stretching can really help us to be free from pain and feel better. Cats are among the laziest of animals but they are supple and agile because of all the stretching they do. Maybe we should all be ‘more cat’!
Stretching before exercise
The purpose of stretching before exercise is to raise the heart rate and prepare our muscles and joints, by stretching them out and warming them up, for whatever activity we are about to do. Stretching also promotes blood circulation which reduces the risk of injury. Dynamic (or active) stretches where you take your joints and muscles through a full range of motion are best pre exercise. Some examples are trunk twists, walking lunges, arm circles, and leg swings.
Stretching after exercise
After exercise we need to bring our heart rate down and stretch out our muscles to avoid stiffness and muscle tightness. This is when static stretches are best, those exercises where we stand still and hold the stretch for a period of time without movement.
One of the big benefits of static stretching is that it can really help increase our range of motion in whichever joint we are stretching by relaxing the muscles. Having increased flexibility helps us in all sorts of ways, from literally getting out of bed in the morning to taking part in more strenuous activities like gardening or cleaning the windows.
Static stretches are a really effective way to reduce stiffness in tight muscles and reduce the pain and the good thing is, we can do them anywhere!
Bad posture causes muscle stiffness and soreness, particularly in our back. It can also seriously damage our body confidence. Being hunched over a desk for much of the day or slouching in front of the TV at night is causing problems which stretching can help to resolve by encouraging proper body alignment.
The mental health benefits
When we think about stretching, we probably automatically think about the physical benefits but there are also several benefits for our mental health. High levels of stress can cause muscles to feel tense and tight. Think about how our shoulders tense up when we are agitated. This tenseness can cause headaches, insomnia, migraine, body aches, even high blood pressure. Stretching our muscles helps them to relax and eases the stress we are feeling.
Stretching also boosts levels of endorphins, those mood-boosting chemicals including dopamine and serotonin. Endorphins help to boost energy levels, and improve blood flow and circulation, which helps us feel better. Endorphins also help to stabilize our mood, reduce stress and generally help us feel more positive which, in turn, reduces stress and anxiety. Studies have actually shown that stretching is one of the simplest and most effective ways to reduce stress and calm the mind, helping us find emotional and mental balance. If you focus on your breathing at the same time, it can be an act of meditation with all the known benefits that go with it.
Creating the stretching habit
Ideally we should aim to stretch continuously for 5-10 minutes every day, although adding in individual stretches at any time will definitely help too! The best way to remember to do something is to tack it on to something you already do. So it might be that you stretch the moment you get out of bed or after you’ve put your PJ’s on at night, whatever works for you. You could add in a quick stretch every time you get up from a seated position or while you are waiting for the kettle to boil too. If you’re not sure what to do, there are some easy to follow tutorials on YouTube if you search ‘Stretching workouts’. Whatever you decide to do, make sure you take it slowly to begin with and if somethings hurts or feels uncomfortable, stop!
The Tiny Tweak
So this week I’m going to start a stretching routine first thing in the morning. Last year I wrote a post about things to do in the mornings to make us feel good and start the day off well (it’s here https://wordpress.com/post/happyhealthymeajourney.com/364 if you missed it!). Stretching was one of the things I included and I do it every morning but only one or two quick stretches. So I’m going to have a look on YouTube and find something I think I can stick to. What will you do?!
Until next time xx
If you enjoyed this post, please like it and let me know in the comments. If you know anyone else who would like it, please feel free to share! Do you stretch? Could you be ‘more cat’?!