Whether you stretch in bed when you’re just waking up or you save your stretching for the yoga mat, you’ve probably noticed how good this simple act feels. Even easy stretches have the potential to make you feel utterly relaxed and more in touch with your body. By stimulating your parasympathetic nervous system, stretching is a powerful way to improve your mental and physical state. Here’s why it feels so good and how to incorporate it into your daily routine.
Why Does Stretching Feel Good?
Stretching stimulates our body’s parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for rest and digestion, and inhibits the “fight or flight” response. Stretching may also release endorphins, chemicals that induce euphoria and relieve pain, as found in a study on menstrual cramps. Physically, stretching relaxes blood vessels but increases the amount of blood our heart pumps, leading to better circulation and vascular function.
Health Benefits of Stretching
Due to this activation of the parasympathetic nervous system, there are a number of mental and physical health benefits brought about by stretching. Aside from simply feeling good, you may experience the following side effects of stretching, especially if you establish a consistent routine.
Calmness and Relaxation
If you deal with stress or anxiety, stretching is a natural way to start to feel better again. Activating the parasympathetic nervous system signals the body to slow down and rest, promoting a feeling of calmness and relaxation.
According to Jaime Longval, M.S., a certified strength and conditioning specialist at Brown University, “Stretching is an effective strategy to aid in the relief of stress. It lengthens the muscles to relieve tension.” Promoting calmness and relaxation may also lead to better sleep.
In addition to relieving menstrual pain, stretching may also help with sciatica pain, muscle tension and lower back pain. Some even say that stretching may help you prevent injuries and avoid pain altogether, though more research is required.
Improved Posture and Flexibility
Recent studies show that stretching decreases muscle-tendon stiffness, which may improve flexibility and range of motion. This is ideal for those who play sports since stretching can lead to better performance. Those who have sedentary lifestyles or work at computers can also benefit from stretching, especially when used in conjunction with muscle strengthening exercises.
How To Create a Simple Stretching Routine
While you can stretch anytime, anywhere and without the use of equipment, you should be mindful of proper technique to achieve the best results. According to the Mayo Clinic, you shouldn’t consider stretching a warm-up to vigorous exercise. Instead, you should warm up with light walking, jogging or biking at low intensity or save stretching for after your workout when your muscles are already warm.
Focus your stretches on major muscle groups like calves, thighs or hips, and be sure to stretch both sides. Bringing gentle movements, like those found in yoga, into your stretches can also improve flexibility. This guide to basic stretches, from your hamstrings to your quadriceps, is a good place to start.
How Long Should You Stretch?
According to experts at Harvard Health, stretches should be held for 30 seconds. Be sure not to bounce, as it may lead to injury. While you may feel some tension, you should not feel pain during a stretch. If you do feel pain, back off.
How Often Should You Stretch?
The more often you stretch, the better it is for your body. However, it’s far better to stretch for a short time each day than to stretch for an extended time a few times per week.
How To Choose the Right Stretches for You
A good way to know which stretches are right for you is to make your stretching sports specific. If you’re training for a sport or specific activity, consider the body parts you will use during that activity and focus your stretches there. If you are stretching for overall health, check out these simple stretches, which zero in on the joints we tend to use every day.
The next time you wake up and reach for your phone, consider reaching for your toes instead and make stretching a part of your everyday routine. You can also deepen your stretching practice by using a soothing CBD-rich Hemp product, like SHEbd’s Hemp Comfort Cream to keep your muscles feeling relaxed. Your body and mind will thank you.
Erica Garza is an author and essayist from Los Angeles. Her writing has appeared in TIME, Health, Glamour, Good Housekeeping, Women’s Health and VICE.