We start our day with energy, ready to face the world on a positive note. But as we start to get involved in our work, this energy starts to deplete. And soon, our positive attitude changes into one filled with stress, worry, or even anxiety. Stretching however, is something that can come to our aid.
When we begin to experience stress, we can feel the tension in our body. At such times, stretching can be an excellent way to reduce stress.
Most of us think stretching is only for athletes or gymnasts. But the fact is, it is essential for all of us.
It’s not just about keeping the muscles strong or improving our flexibility. It also has the power to improve our mental health.
Stretching has been proven to be one of the simplest and effective ways to reduce stress and calm the mind in order to find emotional and mental balance. So, when we go through anxiety, stress, and fatigue from work-load, a little stretching can do us a world of good.
Let’s understand more about stretching and its benefits for better mental health.
Why do we stretch?
Back pain, sore muscles, and migraines have become a common part of our lives. Think about how much time we spend in front of a laptop or mobile phone. Even commuting or sitting in a chair or a car for hours, results in back pain, strains, and joint pains. A little stretching can free us from all this pain and make us feel better.
Without stretching, our muscles become tight. When we try to work or do some activity, the stiff muscles can’t work efficiently and may cause injury. It helps us to keep our muscles flexible, healthy, and relaxed.
Physical health aside, regular stretching also improves our mental health. We already know that our body and brain have a close connection. However, we have to understand this connection between our brain and body to leverage its full potential.
When we stretch, our body releases feel-good hormones called endorphins. Endorphins are responsible for triggering the brain receptors that increase positive feelings and reduce pain.
Any kind of workout or yoga produces endorphins that make us feel more positive. For instance, we can compare this feeling of well-being with the way we feel after after a successful meeting, spending quality time with loved ones, and so on.
Types of stretching
It’s easy to start a stretching routine without any previous experience. However, for a safer experience, it’s important to know the basics before jumping into stretching.
There are mainly three types of routines with different kinds of benefits.
- Static: Static stretching is one of the best stretching routines to relax sore body muscles. In static stretching, we have to stretch the targeted muscle group and hold it without movement for 30–60 seconds. This helps to improve flexibility and allows our muscles to loosen up. Static stretching can be performed in two ways: active and passive.
- Active: Here the person applies their own body force for stretching; no external forces are applied.
- Passive: Here external force is applied (external weights) to increase the intensity of stretching.
- Dynamic: We can start our yoga or workout sessions with a dynamic stretching routine. These types of stretching movements involve body movements and allow our muscles to get warmed up. For example, in dynamic stretching, we can move our hands, jump, sprint, or jog in one place before starting with our exercise routine.
- Pre-contraction: Also known as Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) is a more advanced form of stretching, which involves both the stretching and contracting of the target muscle groups. PNF stretching is one of the most effective forms of stretching to improve our range of motion and flexibility.
How can stretching benefit our mental health?
When it comes to stretching, most of us think of its physical benefits. Few people actually recognize its impact on mental health.
From increasing our blood circulation and boosting our mood, to improving the quality of sleep, stretching can do wonders for our mental wellbeing.
Here are some more ways stretching can help us to manage stress and enhance our mental health:
- Leads to relaxation: When we get stressed about something, our body muscles stiffen up. This causes body aches, joint pain, and also leads us to headaches, insomnia, high blood pressure, migraine, anxiety, and even depression. However, stretching can help us to manage stress by relieving our tense muscles. Further, when we stretch, our body releases endorphins which calm our mind and provide some quick respite from stress.
- Boosts energy levels: The endorphins released also regulate our metabolism, boost our energy levels, and hence make us feel good. A good stretch can improve blood flow and circulation in the body. This means that after a session, we can achieve high-energy, a clear mind, and positive mood.
- Increases inner balance: One of the most powerful, yet less-popular benefits is inner peace. It’s a scientific fact that stretching can help in coping with depression and lift our mood by releasing feel-good hormones. The slow stretching movements and controlled breathing act at meditation and can actually calm the mind.
- Improves posture: Bad posture can damage our body confidence. It can also affect our physical health by causing muscle stiffness and soreness. As remote work and desk jobs are becoming more common, they’re causing poor posture and back issues for people. Stretching can encourage proper body alignment and reduce pain. This helps to improve body posture and muscle strength, and prevents our body from having future back pain issues as we grow older.
How to start your stretching routine?
Stretching can be overwhelming for a beginner. But, there are a few simple steps we can take to start a stretching routine smoothly.
Stretching without a warm-up can cause unwanted injuries. That’s why a warm-up is essential before stretching. One can simply run, walk, do jumping jacks, or some skipping before proceeding with an intense stretching routine.
Be slow and controlled
A beginner should go slow with stretching. It’s okay if we cannot do some of the stretching moves perfectly. Stretching three to four times a week, only for several minutes also, can be a good place to start. Also, one must remember that stretching needs patience, and it may take weeks or months to witness significant results. At the beginning, do not pressure yourself. Just take a quick minute to drop what you’re doing and stretch by the side of your bed, desk, living room — wherever. It doesn’t matter what time of the day.
Focus on sore muscles first
When we stretch, we need to focus on the sore or tight muscles first. Stretching sore muscles reduces soreness and stiffness. With time, stretching will make the tight muscles flexible and easy to move.
Stretch for at least 5–10 minutes a day
The best thing about stretching is that we don’t have to spend hours on it. Working your way up to 10 minutes of daily stretching can show noticeable results. However, it’s helpful to stretch regularly to leverage its full potential.
Stretching has immense benefits for our mental health. From boosting our energy levels to reducing stress, it can profoundly impact our mental well-being. It can help to lift our mood and calm our minds. For these reasons, consider adding stretching to your daily arsenal of tools to battle those long, hard days.
If you want to reap the real benefits of stretching, it’s crucial to follow a routine. Consistency and patience are key to getting optimal results from stretching.
We don’t have to be yoga masters, invest hours in the gym, or be avid runners to practise stretching. All we need to do is make it a part of our daily routines to leverage its power correctly.
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