There are many different habits and workouts you can do to improve your life. What about stretching, what benefits can you expect?
Stretching is a form of exercise where you stretch out muscles or tendons with a variety of movements. These types of movements are also just instinctive actions in both humans and animals.
Some people question how useful this exercise can be but adding stretching sessions to your routine can offer you some of the following amazing benefits.
If you are an athlete going for top performance keep in mind that there are some studies that link stretching before the exercise to reduced performance (1). This means it may be smarter to stretch after to play it safe.
1. Improves flexibility
Flexibility is a fitness component that comes down to the range of motion specific joints or joint groups can do. By pushing these boundaries with exercises like stretching you can increase this range of motion (2, 3, 4, 5, 6).
One study suggests that not resting between stretch exercises can improve the maximal range of motion more than resting 30 seconds between repetitions (7).
Generally, older individuals have more flexibility concerns than young individuals. That being said by working on your flexibility when you are still young you can avoid flexibility problems when you get older. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
2. Increases blood flow to muscle
Your blood circulation transports both good nutrients to where they can be used and waste substances to where they can get removed from your body.
An increase in blood flow to these muscles can in turn shorten recovery time and reduce muscle soreness (12).
3. Can improve posture
A good posture is a combination of both strengthening the right muscles and making the right muscles more flexible. For example, having very tight chest muscles could decrease the quality of your posture. Stretching these muscles more can help you avoid that.
Improving your posture will help you avoid related injuries. One small study even suggests that open non-verbal displays, which a good posture helps with, are attractive (13).
4. Can improve sleep
Good quality and duration sleep are extremely important for your physical health and cognitive function. Unfortunately, many people can do a lot better with both quality and duration.
A lot of the things you do throughout the day influence the quality and duration in some way. One of the things that can benefit sleep is stretching (14).
You do want to keep in mind that exercising too intensely too close to bedtime can have the reverse effect and mess with your sleep. This is likely less of an issue with a softer type of exercise like stretching but make sure you give your body time enough time to calm down after a workout.
For most people, this comes down to avoiding very dynamic stretching exercises at least an hour or two before going to sleep.
5. Can improve balance
Having a good balance can benefit you by reducing your fall risk and related injuries and can improve athletic performance in certain exercises.
6. Helps against type 2 diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is a disease that involves consequences like high blood sugar, insulin resistance, and lack of insulin. These things in turn can have really bad consequences so type 2 diabetes is definitely something you want to avoid.
One study observed that real stretching was more effective than mock stretching for controlling blood glucose levels in individuals with or at risk of type 2 diabetes (22).
7. Improved mood
Most people are not always completely aware of it but the physical health of the human body has a big influence on the mood and thoughts of the individual.
Stretching doesn’t just help with this by improving general health. There are inevitably many different reasons involved but one reason why workouts, even softer ones like stretching, benefit mental health is that they promote the release of endorphins, “feel-good” hormones (23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28).
Besides the actual physiological changes stretching will cause, you will likely also have positive feelings about having done something challenging that’s good for you.
One study looked at the impact of a 10-minute stretch session after work for 3 months on 67 individuals. They measured a reduction in levels of anxiety, pain, and exhaustion, and an increase in levels of vitality, mental health, and flexibility in the stretching group (29).
8. Can help with losing weight
Losing weight is about using up body fat, which is basically energy stored. To do this you want to make sure that you require more energy throughout the day than there is coming in from food.
One way to try to make this happen is by doing a workout. By increasing the intensity of your movements for a period of time you use up more energy than usual. Stretching can help with weight loss since doing a workout like it generally requires more energy than most of your usual daily activities.
30 minutes of mild stretching can help you burn around 68-117+ calories depending on weight, intensity, and much more. If you want to learn how to burn more calories while stretching, make sure you read the article on how many calories stretching burns.
Although the extra calorie burning from stretching is often welcome when trying to lose weight, compared to many other exercises, that number is rather small. If you’re serious about burning a lot of extra calories other workouts than stretching are likely a better choice.
Keep in mind that other lifestyle habits like what you eat are important when trying to lose weight no matter what exercise you do. You can work out and gain weight at the same time if your other lifestyle habits are not good.
9. Can improve athletic performance
The next benefit of stretching is that it can improve athletic performance in some situations. What you need to keep in mind is that stretching can be done in many different ways, before and after the exercise, in relation to different types of exercise, and so on.
Differences in these factors can lead to differences in the impact of stretching on athletic performance. One study observed that a 10-week stretching program led to an increase in calf strength (30).
In short, the studies on the impact of stretching on athletic performance are contradictory (x). If you are an athlete aiming for top performance you may want to avoid stretching before the moment of performance to play it safe. You can still stretch after your performance to get some of the other benefits.
10. Can reduce pain
One study in particular looked at the impact of stretching exercises 2 times a day for 5 days a week for 4 weeks on 96 subjects with neck pain. They measured a significant reduction in neck and shoulder pain and an improvement in neck function in the group that stretched compared to the group that did not stretch (40).
This benefit of stretching can be helpful for people who often struggle with painful body parts but also just if you have a stiff neck after a night of bad sleep.
How to use stretching to become more flexible
There is a wide variety of different stretching techniques, durations, and frequencies. In the video below you can learn what a good stretching routine for good results looks like.