Life can be filled with chaos and stress. Soon joints begin to hurt, backs hurt, and people find themselves moving stiffly as they feel tense. Stretching is one way to help remove stress from life and bodies.
Stretching to Reduce Stress
Professionals in the fitness and health industries have noticed the correlation between stretching and relieving stress. Personal trainer Ulrick Bien-Aimé says to combat tension brought on by anxiety or stress, he has his clients hold stretches for at least 15 seconds to help them loosen up and let go of stress.
Physical Therapist Anne Whitis noted that the body's "fight or flight" response is triggered with stress and the body tenses up. Chronic pain arises in these places where tension is held, such as in the shoulders, lower back, neck and head. Stretching, she added, interrupts that defensive response and provides relief to the tense body.
Stress can restrict blood flow, according to MD-health.com, leading to "knots in the muscles in the shoulders and neck." Stretching, according to the Mayo Clinic, increases blood flow to the muscle and aids circulation. Improving circulation allows muscles to relax, leading to greater heart health and cardiovascular function.
Stretching also promotes circulation of new blood to the brain, which can result in mood elevation, allowing any stress to roll off your body and mind, according to wellness expert Peggy Hall.
When bodies are tight, people are more susceptible to pain and injury. Muscles tense up, and people don't move as freely, or might not want to move at all.
Restriction of movement or painful movement can bring on stress simply because it's harder to get around. It can cause you to miss work or social engagements, adding to stress and decreasing quality of life.
University of Illinois researchers note that taking time to loosen the muscles, especially those in areas that notoriously collect tightness (such as the lower back, hips and neck) will make you feel more mobile, and your overall quality of life will see improvement. They said over time, stretching will ease "fatigue, impatience, lack of sleep, and disability while improving function and assist in eliminating the need for medications used for treatment."
When holding a stretch, people tend to allow the breath to stretch out as well. Harvard researchers discuss the benefits of deep breathing to soothe the body and release stress. While deep breathing might seem unnatural, they say, it promotes full oxygen exchange, which can slow the heartbeat and lower or stabilize blood pressure, inducing a more relaxed state of being.
Taking time to stretch means taking time out of your busy life to pay attention to your body and slow down. Moving slower allows you to take time to breathe, to notice your surroundings, to pay attention to yourself and decompress.
When you are less active, your heart rate slows and you become calmer. According to the Mayo Clinic, reducing your heart rate is a good way to lessen stress.
Stretch Away the Stress
Carving out time to stretch and relieve the body of tension will help to reduce stress in your life. Consider taking a yoga or tai chi class to help with guided stretches and relaxation techniques.
The benefits are immediate, and the more you stretch, the better you will feel.