Stretching is an important part of moving your body — and not just before and after exercise. Stretching keeps your muscles strong and flexible, which according to Harvard Health Publishing, is needed to maintain a range of motion in your joints.
Without stretching, your muscles can shorten and become tight, and when you need to use them, can feel weak and unable to extend properly. So, stretching is incredibly important for your physical health, but it also has benefits for your brain as well.
Much like exercise, stretching holds benefits for all parts of your body and mind and actually helps to increase blood circulation in your brain, which can contribute to a clearer mind and more cheerful mood. After stretching, you might even feel that decision making becomes easier thanks to the increased blood flow and mental clarity.
Stretching also releases hormones that positively impact your mood and emotions, which makes it an easy way to change your attitude if you’re feeling in a funk. This practice can also reduce fatigue and increase your energy levels, which in turn, leaves you feeling more invigorated.
Stretching your muscles, coupled with breathing exercises, also helps to activate your parasympathetic nervous system, which helps to produce feelings of relaxation and calm. And, it also means you don’t have to commit to a full Yoga class to achieve this.
“When our breath is deep and the inhalation is long and the exhale even longer, we trigger our parasympathetic nervous system,” Ali Duncan, a yoga instructor and the founder of Urban Sanctuary, told Bustle. “This type of breathing calms the fight or flight part of the brain and allows the body to relax even more.”
Using stretching as a way to signal to your body that it can relax can be helpful, especially if you’re experiencing the physical symptoms of anxiety and depression.
“Our mood affects how our body feels and vice versa,” Pilates instructor Helen Phelan told Bustle. “Depression and anxiety have physical symptoms — it’s not just in people’s heads.”
Incorporating stretching into your routine shouldn’t be too tough either, as it only really requires 10 minutes of your time each day. Make it a non-negotiable practice by setting a reminder to stretch. If you’re working from home, try to use 10 minutes of your lunch break for a stretching session, or schedule in a quick few minutes before you go to bed.
“If practised regularly, optimal performance and improvement in mood, pain, posture, flexibility, and range of motion can be felt within a matter of weeks,” Dr Nailah Abdulbaaqee, M.D., told Bustle. “While there is no set standard for stretching, making physical activity a part of a daily routine can lead to more optimal performance in day-to-day life.”