This morning I dragged my reluctant body through a 30-minute stretch routine. Struggling to harness my attention span, I would catch myself staring listlessly off into the distance as the drone of fitness instruction guided me through a series of body positions.
In this stage of fitness repentance, stretching is full of awkward reminders that my late-forties body doesn’t move like it did a couple decades ago.
Tightness in my chest muscles from years of sitting over a computer keyboard with less than stellar posture makes the meeting of my palms behind my back impossible. I grasp into the air behind me and eventually settle for hand-over-hand folding somewhere at the base of my spine instead.
Same goes for a standing twist stretch that results in a token turn of my head or the forward fold where my fingers fall a good 12 inches short of my toes. Darned years of office chair existence. My hammies aren’t cutting me any slack.
When it’s over I feel a mix of relief and elation wash over me. Score one for healthier lifestyle and I actually do feel better than I did 30 minutes before. I’m just glad I didn’t have any spectators other than my two doggies. Instead of a graceful workout it was more like a one-person wrestle match.
Do You Stretch Regularly?
Do you stretch a few minutes every day as part of a healthy lifestyle? If not daily, do you complete a good 30-minute stretch workout 1-2 times a week?
If you live the average, busy life then I’m guessing the answer is a regrettable no.
You’d like to. You aspire to. Maybe you’ve hit the elusive target a few times and then the rush of life and call of the couch got in the way. It’s been longer since your last stretch workout than you’d like to admit.
Am I warm or scalding hot?
I’d love to help you fix this. Today’s article is meant to inspire you even if you identify with the uncomfortable stretching experience I shared above. It’s meant to remind you and me both of all the wonderful benefits that lay on the other side of this meditative, unassuming practice of stretch fitness.
More than that, I’m going to invite you to join me in a 5-day stretch challenge that will get us experiencing these amazing rewards of stretching right away!
11 Benefits of Stretch Fitness
1. Increased Flexibility
This is the classic answer given to the “Why should I do a stretch routine?” question. Unless I ponder what decreased flexibility looks and feels like, not a reason that sends me diving onto my stretch mat.
Truth is, I’ve never been flexible. Even in my ballet class during grade-school years, I could never manage the elusive “splits” no matter how much I tried. In my prime fitness years I had barely passable stretching range even though I taught a stretch class of my own a couple hours a week.
Even so, the modest flexibility I enjoyed in the past is sorely missed. There is a reason that young children can fall and bounce back up again while an elderly person can break like a twig at the slightest stumble.
Brittle, porous bones. Thinning, tight cartilage. Stiff, tired joints. These are the telltale signs of an aging body. Muscle needs elongating and consistent use or it will wither away and harden like dehydrated rawhide. Not a pretty picture.
The good news is that one powerful way we can stave off the negative effects of aging is by the simple act of stretching.
Use it or lose it. The good news is that if you are like me and haven’t been “using it” enough lately, you can make a come back. Until you die, there are advantages to be had if you make an effort to stretch.
2. Increased Range of Motion
Wait? Isn’t ROM the same as flexibility? Like twins, they appear the same but to the practised eye, are actually very distinct.
Flexibility refers to the condition of individual bones, muscles and joints whereas range of motion (ROM) refers to how these individual components work together as a team to create movement.
Over the weekend I wore high heels to church and then later landed the spiky chain crank on the back of my ankle as I straddle-walked my bicycle off a curb. I bled. It hurt.
I didn’t lose flexibility in my ankle—I can flex my foot up, down and around just fine BUT my range of motion is VERY affected when I attempt to go up and down stairs. I can manage it but my ankle, foot and leg teams are working differently than before.
Thankfully, this is a minor injury that will resolve very soon.
You can also see this phenomenon in people who have to turn their whole upper torso to turn their head.
Our range of motion is something we take for granted until it’s diminished or gone.
3. Improved Back Health
A lot of people suffer with back pain. I didn’t understand this struggle until recently.
I emerged from my vehicle after a 15-hour drive with a sciatic injury and didn’t even know it. At the time I popped an aspirin and prayed it wasn’t a blood clot.
It started as a little twinge and numbing down my left thigh but exploded into full blown sciatic pain from my butt to ankle a month later.
I had no idea what was happening but I had a strong desire to shove an ice pack into the backside of my pants. That reminded me of a fitness supervisor who routinely showed up for work with an ice pack bulge protruding from her backside. When I expressed curiosity about it, she told me she was having a sciatic flareup.
I googled and sciatic symptoms matched exactly what I was experiencing.
I did physiotherapy, chiropractic, massage therapy, stretching routines and used home massage aids. I sat with a special pillow for low back support and slept with a pillow between my knees.
Nothing seemed to alleviate the tension in my left hip and low back but now 5 months later I am symptom-free. The pain that had plagued me for almost half a year is finally gone.
I know that my sedentary lifestyle contributed to this injury. If I had been working out and stretching regularly, I highly doubt this injury would’ve occurred simply by driving for a day.
I also credit the slow improvement in my lifestyle (including stretching) for helping me recover.
If you suffer from back pain, you may need to be judicious about what stretches you do at first.
With a bit of guidance from a health professional and some consistency, you can use stretching to alleviate your symptoms.
Think of a cat that always lands on it’s feet.
It’s speed and grace of movement.
I’ve never been the most agile creature but I know what it feels like to not be tripping over myself.
There is something about a good stretch workout that makes you more keenly aware of where you end and the rest of the world begins.
It’s hard to describe in words but it affects the nimbleness of your movements. It’s a really good feeling.
5. Stress Relief
This is a blog dedicated to promoting mental health and stress management is a huge part of that.
A lot of us reach for unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with stress. What would happen if we opted to do stretch routines instead?
Who couldn’t use the dose of endorphins that come from the serene activity of stretching one’s body?
6. Increased Blood & Lymphatic Flow
This may not sound like the sexiest benefit of stretching unless you fully grasp how increased blood flow contributes to sex and a whole host of beneficial asides.
Sedentary living equals less blood flow which also means less oxygen to our cells.
Our lymphatic system does not have the heart pump to circulate it as the circulatory system does so it is entirely dependant on movement.
Cell waste excretion is an important function of the lymphatic system and the combination of inverted, twisting, sitting and standing stretches are a great stimulator.
7. Better Posture
Aging takes a toll on posture but stretching can delay those changes. Great stretching activates and aligns our bodies. It repositions us like a calibrating tool.
The more we tune ourselves to our ideal frame, the more resilient we become to the effects of poor stature.
8. Improved Digestion
Maybe I didn’t mention the occasional floor creaks that happen to coincide with my stretch workouts. Giggle and blush.
All that bending and twisting allows your digestive system and internal organs to move against one another simulating a gentle, internal massage.
After my c-section years ago, I was advised to bend over (bottoms up) to relieve the trapped gas in my abdomen. The nurse explained that the trapped gas in my torso would bubble up to the highest point when I bent over…well you get the idea.
If this side-effect is embarrassing to you, choose a time earlier in the day to do your stretch workout with less active digestion goin’ on.
Stretch in private or just turn up some tunes in the background. You’ll still get all the internal benefits but with less drama.
9. Less Headaches
This is a benefit of benefits. Yes, even our benefits have a generational effect.
Increased blood flow, better posture and stress relief can thwart the onset of headache that results from the opposite conditions.
Low blood flow, poor posture and high stress are likely causing all sorts of malfunction in our bodies.
10. Superior Activity Performance
It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to guess that a flexible, agile person with great range of motion, posture and blood flow would have superior physical activity performance to someone who has none of those things.
11. Less Injury & Pain
Twice I pulled a rib out of joint.
Once by reaching for my phone in bed and the other by the simple act of taking a deep breath upon waking.
That is scary.
Those rib pulls HURT and required emergency chiropractic care to correct.
A consistent stretch routine would have prevented these acute injuries from happening—I’m convinced of it!
As you may be summarizing from my many personal examples, I have suffered a lot in my forties from poor stretching habits.
Even though I’ve left my office job behind for good, I realize that my passion for writing and other sedentary activities makes an aggressive physical fitness routine an absolute priority.
My collection of experiences tell me that without concerted, strategic effort my body is destined to become an aging cliche.
I’m still in that awkward place of discomfort…like a surfer who is trying to paddle out only to be pummelled by waves.
I haven’t reached that magical place of calm where the waves swell and I am positioned to ride them into shore.
I’ll get there. I’ve been there before. Do you want to join me?
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