Did you know there’s something you can do that’s guaranteed to lower your chances of getting hurt, reduce everyday aches and pains, reduce stress, and even improve your mood? And, did you know it’s so quick and easy, there's no reason anyone can’t make it a part of their daily routine?
What is this magical habit? Stretching.
Why stretching is so important
Healthline reports no less than nine health benefits of stretching. Beyond the ones you probably already know — improved flexibility, greater range of motion, fewer muscle strains — these benefits include:
- Improved blood flow to the muscles
- Better posture
- Helps heal and prevent back pain
- Excellent stress relief
- Calms your mind and boosts your mood
- Can decrease tension headaches
Who wouldn’t appreciate gaining all that for buying out five minutes every day to do a free activity in the comfort of your own home?
Not to downplay them, let’s go back to those more commonly-recognized benefits of stretching for a moment:
Greater flexibility and range of motion
The loss of pain free, unhindered movement across a joint’s entire range of motion is one of the earliest signs of aging. We’re not kids anymore, and it simply gets worse with age. As such, it can impact nearly everything we do from the age of 30 or so on, often transitioning from being a slightly annoying inconvenience to actually reducing our quality of life in significant ways.
Stretching routinely is a safe, simple way to stave off this sign of aging and maintain a higher quality of life much longer.
Reduced chance of muscle strains
If you’ve ever pulled your foot up behind you or spent a few seconds pulling your arm across your chest before jogging for the first time all year, it’s because you’ve heard at some point that doing so will keep you from getting hurt.
Unfortunately, it’s not quite that clear cut. And, the clinical evidence is surprisingly split on the topic. However, sports medicine professionals have long argued that stretching before physical activity warms and limbers up the muscles and tendons, making them less prone to tear or strain with normal movement. That certainly passes the common sense test, and if it’s proven beneficial for professional athletes, how much more can you and I use the extra insurance?
In fact, a recent study has also provided compelling evidence that stretching prior to physical activity can have a positive effect on performance, too. Also not a bad thing.
Before we go any further, we need to spend a few moments on safety. After all, you’re not going to enjoy all the benefits of stretching if you hurt yourself doing it. Here are some key safety tips as you start stretching:
- Don’t rush - If you rush a stretch, you’re likely putting too much strain on the muscle or tendon, and you’re not getting the benefit out of the stretch.
- Don’t overdo it - Especially if you’re just starting out, you’re naturally not very flexible, or you’re nursing any kind of injury, never force your muscle to stretch further than it wants to go. There should be a very mild stretching or aching sensation, but never pain.
- Hold on to something - Many stretches require a measure of balance. If you’re not absolutely confident in your ability to balance for 20 seconds or more at a time, stand next to a wall or something else you can safely hold onto.
- Be aware of your surroundings - Stretching requires enough space to, ahem, stretch out in all directions, so make sure you can do so without hurting yourself or damaging anything. And, as noted above, balance is required, so make sure pets, kids, and other foreign bodies aren’t going to be hurtling past while you’re lengthening your glutes.
Good stretching technique
With that out of the way, you’ll also want to learn a bit about how to stretch properly so you’re optimizing the benefits. Here are some best practices to consider:
- Don’t start with stretching - Although it’s often considered part of a warmup routine, stretching cold muscles can be more uncomfortable and less beneficial than when they’re warm. There’s certainly benefit in stretching first thing in the morning, just go and get your coffee first.
- Keep things even - No matter how flexible you are (or aren’t) at any point, it’s more important that you be equally flexible in both sets of comparable muscles. For instance, if your right hamstring is much more flexible than your left, there’s a good chance walking or running will lead to injury — your stride is actually different with each step!
- Don’t bounce. Hold - It’s a common mistake to pretend your muscles are rubber and that letting the weight of your body push them that extra few inches by bouncing is a good thing. It’s not. You should slowly move into the stretch, consciously decide how far is far enough, and hold that position for 20 seconds or more.
It’s important to recognize stretching for what it is: a form of exercise. It’s not just what you do before exercise. So, proper form is important to prevent injury and get the benefit out of the movement.
The 5-minute full body stretching routine
The following routine is just an example with a video illustrating how all the stretches are performed. There are hundreds of other similar examples out there, so feel free to do your own research and find options that suit you better if you’d like.
The main point here is to illustrate how you can effectively stretch all the major muscles in your body in just five minutes: