When we think of stretching, we think of flexibility and flexible people. We think about an easy workout. We might not even think of a workout at all. We might even think about old people or dancers.
We do know one thing: we should be doing it.
That doesn’t mean that we actually stretch consistently though. We know it’s good for us. We know we’re supposed to. But in the grand scheme of things, we think the workout is more important or we just aren’t as interested in sitting down to spend ten minutes foam rolling as we are getting to dinner right now.
And still we don’t do it.
Look, stretching is important. Blah, blah. We know. Right? Sure. So why is it important? Five reasons. Got any?
You need range of motion.
And not just if you do sports. If you do sports, you need extra range of motion to buy you room for mistakes, tumbles, using the muscles themselves. The bare minimum stretch that the activity gives you will not help you in the long run, it’ll only hurt you.
But what about if you live a moderately sedentary life? You need it even more.
Let’s say you haven’t actively stretched in forever. Your muscles are tight. They pull on each other. Suddenly you’re stiff and you’re only 30. You’re shoulders are perpetually tense. Your back perpetually hurts. You feel old. And you’re only 30. You aren’t getting as much oxygen in because you’re hunched. You’re tired because you’re hunched. You can’t move freely because everything is locked up. And now you feel old because you’ve neglected your body. And you’re only 30.
What happens then when you’re forty? Or maybe even 35?
You need your muscles one day, walking down the driveway slight decline. Or you need to step up into a slightly higher than average step. Or you have to pull a heavy door. You get hurt.
Because your muscles have absolutely no range of motion, they pull, tear, cramp up, strain, and get really damaged. All of a sudden you can’t workout. That’s a problem. The bigger problem is the recovery. You might never fully recover because you didn’t have a foundation to begin with.
That range of motion that stretching encourages and increases (slowly) keeps our joints, muscles, and ligaments/tendons safe and happy.
You need blood flow.
You know what isn’t fun? Not getting enough blood to the right places. You know what helps? Stretching. It’s a scientific fact that stretching helps our blood flow. Especially if we’re sitting all day long (you should be taking breaks every half hour to move) we need to incorporate stretching. Not just for our hamstring’s health, but for our heart.
Unfortunately, in elderly people we see this in the form of a blood clot. Sitting in one position too long without moving. Stretching does help this.
And it does it quickly. Getting up to stretch feels good. I always notice that I start breathing more deeply, I feel refreshed, my mood improves. I can notice that my blood flow is better. And I’m 24!
You don’t need stress.
Or at least not the negative kind. Taking fifteen minutes twice a day to sit quietly and stretch out your legs, back, and shoulders encourages you to relieve stress as well.
The act of stretching, because of blood flow and oxygen, already promotes stress reduction. Throw on some calm music or sit in the quiet and you’ve got yourself a nice part of your routine where you can consciously unwind a bit.
Not only does it ease mental tension, but we are physically removing tension from our body. If we aren’t used to stretching then we’ll notice within a week or so how there is less tension in our shoulders, our neck, our back. That lowered tension might even go so far as to reduce your anxiety and mental tension as well. A lot of times, when we’re cranky it’s because there’s something going on with our physical body that we aren’t paying attention to.
You need to feel good.
We don’t feel good enough. We really, really don’t. We push ourselves, drag ourselves through life. We’re miserable and we shouldn’t need to be. We don’t get extra bonus points for suffering more. We can be happy.
Stretching is one of those things that just feels good. Well, when you’re doing it right. At first, stretching doesn’t feel good. It feels like a chore and one that isn’t comfortable at that. But nothing feels better than stretching out a tight or tired muscle. Why? Because that’s what our body needs. It needs to be stretched out and taken care of.
Cool. So those are a few reasons why stretching is important. A lot of us know these things and still don’t stretch. Why not?
Because stretching is hard.
We always want to be more flexible than we are. We don’t want to wait for the progress. Sometimes it hurts. Sometimes we’re sore. Most of the time we want something else like dinner, or a shower, or bed, or sleeping in. But we need to carve out time to stretch our body every day. We need to take care of ourselves.
The biggest reason for taking time to stretch is to see our quality of life improve. Floating through life, moving without stress feels so good. Whether or not your naturally flexible (definitely not naturally flexible for me) stretching feels good for you body and helps you move free of stiffness. It keeps you feeling young. It keeps you honest.
Stretching is hard because it’s easy to beat ourselves up. It’s easy to make excuses. It’s easy to ignore how it helps us. That doesn’t mean that we should continue to ignore it or push it to the side for later. Stretch five days a week, every day if you can, for just ten minutes or so.
Incorporate a stretching routine into your life and enter it with a humble mind. Appreciate where you are today and don’t compare yourself to gymnasts or yogis who have practiced for decades. Flexibility will come, but it’s not the point. It’s just a consequence that happens along the way.