Six benefits of Active Stretch

January 27, 2012 18:45
Six benefits of Active Stretch

Whether you're working out or not, you can still reap the benefits of stretching! We went to some of our favorite health and fitness experts to outline six benefits of active stretching.

1. Stretching leads to good posture, better blood flow, and more confidence: It's easy to forget to stretch. It's often overlooked because the results are not as visible as lifting weights and squatting-or so you thought. Stretching can lead to better posture, fewer aches and pains, greater confidence, and a cheerier outlook on life.

"That's because stretching increases your blood flow and circulation for a healthier body and sends oxygen to your brain for a clearer mind and sunnier moods," says Peggy Hall, wellness expert.

2. It's great for glutes: When we're at work, we do a lot of sitting, but did you know sitting is tough on your body, especially on your glutes? Sandra Hahamian, certified personal trainer, says that when you're sitting, the nerves that activate your glutes can shut down in a very short period of time.
"If you are a repetitive 'sitter,' the glute muscle begins the process of atrophy. This means that the glute muscle begins to degenerate (not in a good way). When your glutes shut down, other muscles and joints in your body become over-stressed and can result in pain in places such as the knees and lower back," Hahamian adds.

The most effective way to combat this problem is to keep your glutes active. "Getting up and stretching your glutes and hip flexors is a good first step to wake up these muscles. Whether you work out or not, stretching these tight muscles can reduce future injury and pain," she says.

3. It's terrific for your thoracic spine: Your thoracic spine, which is located in the middle of your back, is very important to stretch and keep moving. Simple rotational stretches throughout the day are extremely important if you drive, sit, or just stay in one place for a few hours of the day, Hahamian says.

"When the thoracic spine becomes tight, it can create many problems up and down the chain of the body," she says. "I have seen my clients' necks, shoulders and chest tighten up or become unstable and weak with a tight thoracic spine."

4. It leads to better balance: Daily use of muscles can cause them to get tight, especially if you regularly carry a purse or backpack. "The heavier the bag, the more your body can tighten up on one side," says Nicole Palacios, certified personal trainer. "Stretching can alleviate muscle tightness and bring your body back to feeling better balanced."

5. It does workout wonders: And obviously, if you are working out, stretching can do your body wonders. "After exercising, your muscles may feel tight. During weight training, your muscle length shortens; this can leave you feeling tight and sore," Palacios says. "Directly after your workout, you should stretch the muscles that you just trained to feel less tense."

6. Stretch smart: To reap the benefits of stretching, you have to do it the right way, Hall says. Hold the stretch at the first sensation of resistance, then breathe your way through it. Imagine and feel the muscle tissue becoming more supple.

Modify, adapt, and adjust the stretch to suit your particular needs. Use padding under your knees for example, or try the same stretch sitting down, lying down, or standing up if it's more comfortable for you. Instead of thinking, "I'm so tight!" or "Stretching is agony," replace your mental soundtrack with "This is just what my body needs" and "I'm getting more flexible each time I stretch."

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