I rolled over and slammed my hand around on the table, intent on silencing the culprit that interrupted my romantic rendezvous with Robert Downey, Jr. Once the air was no longer filled with incessant buzzing, I rubbed my eyes and rolled toward the edge of the bed. As if it wasn’t bad enough that I had to leave Robert in dreamland, but to add to it, when my feet hit the floor every muscle in my back felt like it was suddenly on strike. I immediately began my morning stretch.
I’ve always been a “stretcher.” In fact, a former boyfriend once told me I stretch more often than his cat. I tried to take it as a compliment. Still not so sure he meant it that way, but I saw him a few weeks ago – I’m in much better shape, so I’m keeping it as a win for me.
The point is, stretching is beneficial for more reasons than just to get the kinks out first thing in the morning. It does much more than just loosen you up; it helps you recover from the toil of the day before and gets your body ready for the day ahead. A morning stretch is kind of like stretching after your workout. It will oxygenate not only your muscles but your brain, which can only add a positive kick-start to your day. And if that isn’t reason enough, here are a few other benefits:
- Better Circulation - Stretching may not necessarily prevent injury from overdoing it, but it does increase the blood flow to muscles and cartilage. What does this mean for you? It means less muscle soreness after workouts. The less sore your muscles are, the more likely you are to actually workout again. Oh, yeah, and it’s less painful in general if you aren’t sore.
- Flexibility - The best and most effective way to increase your flexibility is by stretching. As we age, our muscles gradually shorten and tighten, reducing our overall flexibility. (This also explains why I think I’m getting more vertically challenged.) Why is flexibility important? When your muscles are tight and restricted, you’re prone to muscle, tendon and joint injuries. Stretching reduces these risks by increasing your flexibility. Plus, there’s that satisfying moment at family gatherings when you can prove you can touch your toes and your younger sister can’t.
- Reduce Stress – We all stress!! And we are all looking for ways to make it go away. I like to call stretching the “stress buster” exercise. Stress tenses your muscles – literally. And tension can have negative effects on just about every part of your body. Gentle stretching exercises relax tense muscles, hence busting the stress. Not to mention, since stretching is indeed exercise, you get the bonus of the endorphin-boosting effects (and saying you exercised). So your mood, and the way you feel in general, is going to see a definite upturn.
- Lessen Lower Back Pain – Face it, you’re not the spring chicken you used to be. You’re not alone. Millions suffer with lower back pain. I, for one, feel it when I roll out of bed in the morning. Stretching actually helps strengthen lower back muscles and eases soreness and pain. Bonus: it helps improve your posture too since so many muscles (quadriceps, hamstrings, lower back muscles and hip flexors) are involved. Bonus: you’re mom won’t tell you to sit up straight as often.
You can begin this before you even get out of bed. Start by taking a few deep breaths, then raise your arms over your head, point your toes, and stretch out your body. Hold each position about 30 seconds. Alternately bring each arm over your head then drop your hand down to the opposite ear. Keep your movements slow and easy, don't over stretch, just move. Next, lying on your back, slide your feet up, raising your knees. Drop your knees to one side, and then the other. Then pull your knees to your chest and give yourself a hug. Put one leg out straight while holding on to the other and bring your head outside of the knee, then switch legs. Take a few relaxing breathes and get out of bed, and start your day.
You can add in other stretches that work the muscles you tend to feel the most tension in and customize your stretch routine for what feels best for your body. Regardless of which stretches you choose, you will reap the benefits of a good morning stretch. You might even find yourself stretching more often, but I wouldn’t recommend dropping to the office floor in front of the boss and co-workers and announcing you need a “stress buster.” I can’t promise that would be beneficial.
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