As a healthcare practitioner, I see patients of all ages and stages in life pursuing health and wellness through a combination of sensible diet and regular exercise. In this era of Instagram and Pinterest, accessing thousands of healthy recipes and even meal plans and shopping lists is at our fingertips. When it comes to exercise, some people belong to gyms, some choose to do home workouts and others have a fitness buddy to hold them accountable. No matter how you accomplish a fitness routine isn’t important, but incorporating some type of regular motion and movement into daily activity is essential for overall wellness.
One of the simplest forms of physical activity is stretching—and its benefits and results may surprise you. Regardless of your age, but especially if you’re pregnant or older, getting into the habit of stretching pays off long-term.
As always, if you’re pregnant, consult with your healthcare practitioner before starting any exercise program.
Here are six ways stretching can contribute to your personal health goals.
Rise & Shine
Start your day energized by engaging in a few minutes of stretching. This encourages the blood to flow through your entire body, including your brain, which wakes you up and helps you shrug off that sluggish feeling. Chances are, once stretching is second nature, the mid-afternoon yawns disappear and you’ll have more stamina to power through the day. Stretching during pregnancy boosts energy, too, and the oxygenated blood helps flush out toxins and lactic acid.
Stretching helps you to avoid falling by improving fine-muscle coordination. This is vital for pregnant women, whose center of gravity naturally shifts, and older individuals whose muscles weaken during the aging process.
One objective of stretching is to literally warm the body up by increasing blood flow to muscles and tendons, which loosens them up and expands the range of motion of various joints. Keeping joints flexible, reducing pain and improving balance and strength is important as we age. Stretching during pregnancy helps protect your freedom of movement and keep muscles and joints strong and flexible for a safe labor.
Aches & Pains
Who doesn’t grumble every now and then about stiff muscles and creaky joints? Stretching is one solution to help alleviate muscle stiffness and discomfort. Focus on mobility with range-of-motion exercises like shoulder shrugs, wrist-bends and knee lifts. Lower back pain is a common complaint during pregnancy and stretching is a safe way to relieve it, along with neck and upper and mid back pain.
Some studies in recent years have shown that stretching can help memory and even help you think more clearly.
It’s easy to remember this last tip: Stretch more—stress less. Our society today is packed with stress, from traffic jams and long workdays to hectic schedules and overbooked calendars. Carve some quiet time out of each day to relax into stretches that will help reduce neck and shoulder pain and back knots—places where stress and mental tension typically beat up on the body.
Looking for a stretching sequence to jumpstart your day? Check out these 21 easy exercises from SELF Magazine that will, among other things, help improve flexibility.