Without realizing it, many of us start our day by stretching before we even get out of bed. The involuntary stretching of your muscles is called pandiculation. It’s a behavior seen in most types of animals to relieve muscle tension.
The Benefits of Stretching and Why It Feels Good
Few activities feel better after a period of inactivity than stretching. Stretching reduces your risk of getting injured, can induce a feeling of calmness, and is even thought to improve your circulation. In this article, we’ll help explain why stretching feels good, explore the benefits, and provide examples of simple stretches you can do on a regular basis.
Why does stretching feel good?
Humans have a natural tendency to avoid things that cause pain and to seek activities that feel good. Stretching is no exception. Your body’s natural reward system makes stretching feel good to motivate you to keep your muscles at optimal tension.
Here’s a closer look at the reasons why stretching feels good.
When you stretch a muscle, your body responds by increasing blood flow to that area. The blood vessels around the targeted muscle widen to allow more blood to flow through, and your heart starts pumping more blood.
This increase in blood flow allows the muscle or muscles you’re stretching to receive more oxygen and to get rid of metabolic waste products.
Research has shown that static stretching activates your parasympathetic nervous system and inhibits the activation of your sympathetic nervous system.
Your parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for your rest and digestion functions. It can also help induce feelings of calmness and relaxation.
Endorphins are chemicals produced by your central nervous system and pituitary gland that function as neurotransmitters. They have greater pain-relieving effects than morphine and cause a feeling of euphoria when they bind with receptors in your brain.
Endorphins are part of your body’s natural reward system and are released after activities like exercise, sex, eating, and drinking.
There’s little research on the effects of stretching on endorphin release. However, according to a 2015 perspective, stretching may help reduce menstruation pain. It’s thought that its pain-relieving effects are due to the relaxation of blood vessels, the release of beta-endorphins, and the suppression of prostaglandins.
What are the benefits of stretching?
There are many benefits to stretching your muscles regularly. Let’s look at these benefits in more detail.
Regularly stretching may help improve your flexibility, especially if you live a sedentary lifestyle. Your flexibility naturally decreases as part of the aging process, but stretching may help slow down this process.
Stretching causes short-term improvements in circulation by relaxing your blood vessels and increasing the amount of blood your heart pumps.
Although it’s a fairly new area of research, it’s thought that stretching may have long-term benefits on your circulatory health, such as improved blood vessel function and lower blood pressure.
Static stretching activates your parasympathetic nervous system. Activating this branch of your nervous system may help alleviate the psychological effects of stress. This, in turn, may help induce feelings of calmness and relaxation.
Better sports performance
Being able to achieve a full range of motion through all your joints may help boost your sports performance. For example, to achieve maximum speed, a sprinter needs to be able to fully extend and rotate their hips.
Both static and dynamic stretching may be able to help you improve your range of motion. However, static stretching should be reserved for after workouts since it can decrease force production.
Muscle tightness and tension can negatively affect your posture by pulling your spine into positions that can put stress on your back, neck, and core muscles.
Research has shown that regular stretching in combination with core strengthening exercises may help improve poor posture and alignment.
Simple daily stretches
One of the great things about stretching is that you don’t need any special equipment to do it. Stretching can be done anywhere at any time.
Here are five key stretches that can help relieve tension and tightness in many of the major muscle groups in your body.
The low lunge helps stretch the muscles in your hips, groin, thighs, and core.
To do this stretch:
- Step your right foot forward into a lunge with your back knee on the ground and your left leg extended. Keep your right knee over your right foot, but not beyond it.
- Put your hands on the ground next to your foot. You can also put them on your knees or raise them toward the sky.
- Take a deep breath and focus on opening your chest and stretching out your spine.
- Hold the lunge for at least 5 breaths, then repeat on the other side.
The forward bend helps stretch your back, groin, and the backs of your legs.
To do this stretch:
- Sit on a comfortable surface and extend your left leg out in front of your body. Put your right foot against the inside of your left thigh.
- Take a deep breath and lift your hands over your head.
- As you exhale, bend forward from your hips and reach forward as far as you comfortably can.
- Rest your hands on the floor or on your left leg as you hold the pose for 40 to 60 seconds.
- Repeat on the other side.
Seated torso stretch
The seated torso stretch targets the muscles in your core and back.
To do this stretch:
- Start by sitting upright in a chair with your feet on the ground.
- Hold the back of the chair with one hand and twist in the direction of that hand.
- Hold the twist for up to 30 seconds and repeat on the other side.
Cobra Pose can help open up and stretch the muscles of your chest, abs, neck, and shoulders.
To do this stretch:
- Lie on your stomach with your hands under your shoulders, your arms tight to your chest, and your fingers facing forward.
- Pushing through your hands, lift your upper torso off the ground as you straighten your arms. Tilt your head back if you want to make the stretch deeper.
- Hold the position with a slight bend in your elbows for 30 to 60 seconds.
Neck rolls are a great way to relieve tension in your neck, especially after long periods of sitting.
To do this stretch:
- Relax and sit upright with your ears aligned over your shoulders.
- Roll your head forward and then to the right so that you feel a stretch in the left side of your neck. Hold this position for 10 seconds.
- Return to the starting position and repeat on the other side.
- Repeat 3 times in each direction.
Tips for stretching safely
- Avoid stretching cold. Before you start stretching, it’s a good idea to get your blood flowing to avoid injury. Doing a low-intensity activity like walking or easy jogging for 5 minutes can help warm up your muscles.
- Stretch gently. Don’t force any position that causes pain. If a stretch is painful, it means you’re stretching too far.
- Make stretching a routine. You can reap the most benefits from stretching if it becomes a regular habit. Fitness experts recommend stretching at least two to three times per week.
- Stretch both sides. Be sure to stretch both sides of your body equally to avoid flexibility imbalances.
- Avoid bouncing. Bouncing while you’re stretching can injure your muscles or tendons. It can also make your muscle tighten.
The bottom line
Stretching tends to feel good because it activates your parasympathetic nervous system and increases blood flow to your muscles. It’s thought that stretching may also release endorphins that help to reduce pain and enhance your mood.
Besides feeling good and helping to relieve muscle tension and stress, stretching can also increase your flexibility and circulation, boost your athletic performance, and improve your posture.
Talk to your doctor if you have concerns about stretching, especially if you have an injury or a chronic health condition.