Most of us love a good stretch, especially a good full-body stretch after a yawn. Stretching breathes life into our bodies.
So, what about stretching exercises? Yoga.Health takes a deeper look into incorporating stretching exercises and a routine into your day to help you feel your best and enjoy your life.
Benefits of stretching exercises
Stretching exercises have numerous health benefits, including the following:
· Better balance
· Increased strength
· More flexibility
· Improved mobility
· More energy
Stretching exercises were shown to help older people with agility and flexibility after just eight weeks of stretching exercises performed three times per week.
Dr. David Nolan, a physical therapist at Massachusetts General Hospital, states, “The benefits of stretching exercises are that they keep your muscles flexible, strong, and healthy, and help you maintain a range of motion in your joints. Without that, muscles shorten, become tight and weak and you can´t extend them all the way. It even puts you at risk for joint pain, strains, and muscle damage.” He adds, “To become flexible takes weeks to months of regular stretching, at least three or four times per week.”
And, the benefits of stretching exercises extends to mental health benefits, too. One study showed that stretching for just ten minutes each day for three weeks reduced the symptoms of depression by 20%.
While you don´t have to stretch every day, even just a few minutes of daily stretching exercises provides terrific benefits in a very short period of time.
Warnings against over-stretching
However, be warned: as with all good things, it is possible to overdo even the best stretching routine.
If you stretch your muscles past their limit, they may tear or strain. Thus, stop stretching when you feel slight discomfort during a stretch. But stop immediately if you feel pain in a muscle during a stretch.
Also, beware of stretching cold muscles. Warm up your muscles before you begin your stretching routine. A brief walking warmup, knee lifts, and arm raises help get your muscles ready for stretching exercises.
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends holding each stretch for 30 seconds, and to repeat each stretch 2 to 4 times. However, older adults need longer stretching times, up to 60 seconds per stretch to attain equal results.
Dr. Nolan advises that you don't have to stretch every muscle you have. "The critical areas for mobility are in your lower extremities: calves, hamstrings, hip flexors and quadriceps." But he adds, “But stretching the shoulders, neck, and lower back are also helpful.”
Dr. Michael Curtis, a doctor of physical therapy and certified orthopedic specialist, gives Yoga.Health the following advice to get all the benefits from your stretching exercises:
1. Hold a stretch for 30-60 seconds. Stretching requires you to calmly lean into a muscle group and hold it to give each muscle time to expand and release tension. So, holding each stretch for 30-60 seconds is enough time for this to happen.
2. Don´t bounce. Bouncing during stretching exercises can stretch your muscle too far and too fast, which can cause strain or injury to the muscle. Instead, hold the stretch as evenly as possible and relax further into each stretch.
3. Don´t overdo it. Remember, do not push beyond your limits when you stretch your muscles. Your muscles will give you slight discomfort at your limit, not pain or aggravation.
4. Breathe and relax. Try not to hold your breath as you do your stretching exercises. Take full deep breaths while stretching to send oxygen throughout your muscles, cells, and nervous system and to help you relax.
4 best stretching exercises to start
1. Neck stretch (head rolls)
· Start with your spine straight and your neck long.
· Inhale deeply. As you exhale, slowly drop your head forward so your chin touches your chest, and hold this pose.
· Then, roll your head slowly to the right so that your right ear aims towards your right shoulder, and hold.
· Next, roll your head towards your back so that your chin points towards the ceiling. Hold.
· Finally, roll your head to the left so that your left ear aims towards your left shoulder. Hold.
· Repeat the entire stretching exercise in the opposite direction.
2. Spine stretch (spinal twist)
· Begin by sitting upright with your spine straight.
· When exhaling, turn your spine towards the right, keeping your right arm behind you. Reach around you as far as possible and hold.
· Untwist on an inhale.
· Then on an exhale, repeat the stretching exercise to the opposite side. Hold.
· Repeat on both sides.
3. Hamstring stretch (forward fold)
· Begin either standing or seated and place your hands on your hips.
· Inhale deeply and, on the exhale, bend forward at your hips and keep your spine completely straight with your chin tucked in.
· Bend forward as far as you can.
· Hold this stretch for 30 seconds while breathing deeply.
4. Quadricep stretch (standing quad stretch)
· Begin by standing with your feet hip-width apart, using a chair or wall for balance if necessary.
· Bend your right knee, lifting your foot behind you. Then grab the top of your foot with your right hand.
· Keeping the pelvis tucked and the right knee pointed toward the floor, use your right arm to pull the heel toward the glutes until you feel tension in the quad muscles. Hold.
· Release your leg, and repeat on your other side.
We hope you enjoyed learning about stretching exercises with Yoga.Health. Take these tips and learn to stretch your way to better health!
 N. P. Gothe & Edward McAuley. (Aug. 22, 2015) “Yoga is as good as Stretching-Strengthening Exercises in Improving Functional Fitness Outcomes: Results from a Randomized Controlled Trial.” Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5864160/.  N. P. Gothe & Edward McAuley. (Aug. 22, 2015) “Yoga is as good as Stretching-Strengthening Exercises in Improving Functional Fitness Outcomes: Results from a Randomized Controlled Trial.” Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5864160/.  Yuko Kai, Toshiya Nagamatsu, Yoshinori Kitabatake, & Hiroomi Sensui. (August 5, 2016) “Effects of Stretching on Menopausal and Depressive Symptoms in Middle-Aged Women: a randomized controlled trial.” Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4961267/.  American College of Sports Medicine. (2006) ACSM´s Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription. Retreived from: https://books.google.cl/books?hl=en&lr=&id=hhosAwAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PP1&ots=ljF64G0ZRx&sig=LHCYHtpMCK8VJarm1-cIwJSR4Mw&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false.  Page, Phil. (February 2012) “Current Concepts in Muscle Stretching for Exercise and Rehabilitation.” Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3273886/#B1.