Stretching is an important part of staying fit and healthy. Many health conditions can be amplified by being stiff and inflexible. If you are looking to improve your overall health, and relieve back pain or even pain from arthritis, then improving your flexibility could be a good starting point.
Top Flexibility Benefits
There are many flexibility benefits beyond the obvious of just being able to touch your toes. Being flexible is an important part of maintaining the health and stability of your joints, and maintaining proper movement patterns and good posture.
Stretching and Back Pain
One of the most obvious flexibility benefits comes in the form of protection from back pain. Stretching and strengthening your muscles can help you to maintain good posture while you are sitting, standing and walking, and can have a protective effect on the spine, as well as improving joint mobility.1
Stretching and Headaches
If you suffer from tension headaches, then it could be that your neck and shoulder muscles are too tight, and that if you can release the tension in them then you will feel a lot better. Massage and stretching can help with this because it loosens up the muscles and will allow you to have a more relaxed posture. Try tilting your head to stretch the sides of your neck, and also reaching behind your back to open your chest and relieve tension in the traps and shoulders.
Stretching and Rheumatoid Arthritis-Related Pain
Another area where flexibility benefits people is in the management of rheumatoid arthritis-related pain.2 Stretching helps to keep the joints mobile, and reduces stiffness, thereby also reducing the associated pain. People who are suffering from arthritis sometimes struggle with pain and stiffness in the morning, and stretching before bed can help to prevent that morning pain or make it go away more quickly.
How to Stretch Safely
Stretching is something that is rather misunderstood. A lot of people are told to ‘stretch to the point of pain’, or to stretch before exercise and ‘bounce into the stretch’. While stretching to the point of pain, if done slowly and carefully, is not harmful, studies show that this type of stretching is not actually more beneficial than simply stretching to the point of discomfort.3
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It is best to stretch when you are already ‘warmed up’ or at the very least warm from a nice relaxing bath or shower. This is a part of the reason that yoga lovers practice in a warm room with essential oils. The warmth helps to improve circulation and the essential oils relax you so that you are less likely to get injured.
You can achieve a similar effect if you use relaxing essential oils that contain lavender, cedarwood, helichrysum or black pepper. These scents can help you to relax so that you can stretch further, and reap more flexibility benefits in your yoga, pilates or general stretching practices.
Dynamic Stretching is Something Anyone Can Do
You may have grown up with negative associations with stretching if your only experience was the stuff that you did in your gym class. If you learn proper stretching methods, however, then you can benefit a lot from stretching as a pain management technique.4 Indeed, the American Council on Exercise recommends that people with arthritis stretch to help to lubricate their joints and maintain range of motion, and they believe that dynamic or ‘active’ stretching is a good idea.5
Holding stretches for more than 30 seconds could actually reduce the strength of those muscles in the short term, so rather than stubbornly leaning into a stretch and gritting your teeth, try dynamic movements such as lunges or squats, that will lengthen the muscle gently and keep the joints mobile.6 If you are someone who plays a sport, do sport-specific movements in your warmup. They should be more interesting than ‘toe touches’, and they’ll give you some skills practice while also helping you to stretch safely.
If you need a boost before you exercise, then that’s what the pepper in the Active blend can help with. Studies show that piperine, a key compound in pepper, can help to improve carbohydrate and fat metabolism in muscles during exercise.7
Know Your Limits
Stretching should always be done slowly and carefully while being mindful of your physical limits. Yoga teachers will often remind people that yoga is not a competitive sport. You will gain nothing from trying to keep up with the most flexible person in the room. Stretch to the point that you feel discomfort, and stop there. Each time you stretch you should hopefully find that it gets a little easier and that you get more flexible.
If you aren’t experienced with stretching, consider trying a yoga or pilates class to learn the proper form before you go off on your own. It will help you to avoid injury and to get the most out of your time.
Flexibility can be developed at any age, but it is a skill which must be maintained. Try to do some stretching every couple of days at the very least, while also working on cardiovascular fitness and strength. All three factors are important to your overall health and wellbeing, as is getting plenty of sleep. Remember, if you take care of your body it will serve you well for many years to come!
It may take a while to be able to fully reap the flexibility benefits that are listed above. Becoming flexible takes time and diligent practice, but once you get into the routine of effective and efficient stretching you will find that you feel more limber and more agile and that the benefits spill over into the rest of your life.
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