The body needs to be stretched
Why do you need to stretch?
Many of us think of stretching as a starting or finishing exercise, or something only elite athletes and runners do. Yet, in reality it is something everyone has to do in order to maintain their mobility and proper muscle function. (1)
Whilst necessary for our physical health, stretching is also a lot more than this. It can be a profound practice that extends the boundaries of what many consider a simple exercise routine.
It is not just about increasing flexibility or preparing muscles for further movement, it is a practice that can also nurture the mind-body connection. We can use stretching practices to bridge the gap between our bodies and minds.
Regular stretching is a good way to promote relaxation and calm, helping us cultivate a deeper sense of connection and wellbeing. A Harvard Medical School report recommends that stretching be practiced on a regular basis and ideally be woven into our daily lives. (2)
Why is stretching so important?
In simple physical terms, stretching regularly plays a key role in keeping our bodies supple.
Stretching helps promote healthy, strong and flexible muscles conditions. The flexibility stretching provides is essential for preserving joint mobility. In the absence of regular stretching, our muscles tend to contract and become inflexible. Consequently, when we use our muscles for any movement they lack the capacity to fully extend. This increases the risk of strains and muscular injuries as well as experiencing joint discomfort.
Another Harvard Medical School report highlights that healthy adults should do “flexibility exercises” (stretching / yoga (etc)) for all major muscle groups at least two to three times a week (3). Muscle groups needing regular attention include our neck, shoulders, chest, torso, lower back, hips, legs, and ankles).
Effect of stretching on the brain (mind-body connection)
A study by Mizuki Sudo, shows that stretching improves brain health. Stretching has been shown to lower rates of both physical and mental tension. Lowering anxiety, depression, fatigue and other emotional states. Additionally, enhanced moods have also been shown to improve cognitive performance, specifically tasks such as problem solving, memory tasks, thinking, learning and decision making. (4) Studies like this, reveal how even a 5-10 minute practice of stretching can have significant impacts not only on our health and wellbeing, but also our quality of life.
Combating lifestyle or work conditions
If we sit at a desk regularly, work on a computer, bend our necks to read or even simply have a sedentary lifestyle certain muscle groups will become inactive and tighter. This shows us how our lifestyle and / or working conditions impact our physical bodies, creating a build up of tension.
It is essential to learn to release tension and take time to slow down and appreciate the mind-body connection
Having a regular stretch practice
Dr. David Nolan of Massachusetts General Hospital highlights that "It takes weeks to months to get flexible, and you'll have to continue working on it to maintain it." (5)
It is all too easy to let days, weeks and months slip by without regularly stretching and getting in tune with our bodies. But it is essential to learn to release tension and take time to slow down and appreciate the mind-body connection. When we consider the impacts stretching can have on managing our emotional regulation and cognitive welfare, it highlights how we should form strong and caring habits around stretching our bodies.
So on one hand, a regular stretching practice helps manage our muscle health, keeping them healthy, strong and flexible, and on the other, stretching also serves to connect and ground us whilst we regulate our mind-body connection.
Make stretching a non-negotiable act of self-care
Really stretching should be integrated into a daily routine, even if just for 5-10 minutes. And several times a week go into a longer more dedicated practice of stretching or another flexibility exercise like yoga.