Body & Soul: Keep It Loose

Four reasons why you should set aside time in your busy schedule every day to stretch.

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No matter where you fall on the flexibility spectrum, everyone—from those of us who can’t touch our toes to the most limber yogis—can benefit from stretching out more often. Despite being a practice that’s frequently overlooked due to time constraints, laziness or lack of knowledge, stretching is integral to improving our overall health. Not only does it help us physically, but it also boosts our emotional well-being. Here’s why you should incorporate stretching exercises into your daily routine:

1. Pain Relief
Whether you’re suffering from arthritis, recovering from an accident, or dealing with general pain, stretching relieves discomfort and enhances recovery. “Every muscle has a connective tissue called fascia,” explains Greg Liessner, co-owner of The Stretching Room in College Park. When fascia gets injured or locked into certain postural or movement patterns, it restricts the ability of your muscles to move and leads to pain. Liessner believes that resistance stretching (when the muscle is contracted in a short position while also being lengthened) is the best solution for dealing with pain. It engages the muscle more directly since the tension creates change in the muscle tissue and prevents overstretching. “For example, someone with bad arthritis in their hands should stretch out their hand and arm in different ways,” says Liessner. “This realigns how they use the muscles,” so it doesn’t hurt. 

2. Enhanced Workouts
It’s important to stretch before and after your workout routine. “Basically, before is to warm the muscle and prevent an injury, while after is to let the muscle fully relax and hinder any soreness,” says Andi Prather, owner of Barre3 in Winter Park. The best way to warm up your body before your fitness regimen is through active stretching—where you flow through different stretching movements instead of holding a static pose. “This warms the entire length of the muscle,” Prather explains. Post workout, stretching in stillness helps to bring your heart rate down. “Static stretches lengthen the muscles you were just contracting, which helps get the blood back in there,” Prather adds.

3. Better Focus
Certain stretches oxygenate and optimize the health of the cerebrospinal fluid in the brain. “Different muscle groups are associated with organs and physiological functions and meridians,” explains Elina Nubaryan, co-owner of The Stretching Room. Because of this, stretching can help anyone who has trouble concentrating or is dealing with attention deficit disorder. One stretch that helps boost your focus is a modified child’s pose, where you are pressing your hands into the ground to activate your arms and produce tension as you move backward.

4. Lower Stress
Usually when we’re sitting still, we’re watching TV or on our phone. Stretching allows you to focus on yourself without any distractions. “There’s a mental benefit when you take a few minutes to think about how your body feels,” says Prather. “It’s the only time of day where you can let go of all the tension.” This idea of letting everything go shifts your mindset into a calm state, lowering stress and anxiety levels.

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