Exercise is an integral component to optimal health, but many people often overlook one key aspect of it: stretching. For many people, stretching is an afterthought, something that takes time away from their workout. In order to exercise with full range of motion and without pain, you have to stretch. Aside from improving mobility and flexibility, stretching may also contribute healthy aging.
Stretching, especially before bed, may increase longevity and help you improve sleep, reduce inflammation, and more. A 2016 review of studies found that meditative movements like tai chi and yoga improved sleep quality. A separate study found that stretching brought more focus to breath and body, not stressors people encountered during the day. More breath and body awareness contributes to mindfulness, which can improve sleep.
No matter if you are a young adult, in your 30s, middle-aged or a senior, stretching before bed offers numerous benefits. In addition to reducing muscle tension and preventing sleep-disturbing cramps, you may experience some of the following benefits.
Inflammation is a natural bodily response, but it can be a problem if it becomes chronic. Chronic inflammation plays a role in the development of many diseases, including stroke, heart disease, cancer, obesity, and diabetes. According to experts, regular stretching can help naturally reduce inflammatory markers in the body. Gentle stretching works to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, which has an anti-inflammatory effect on the body. The level of intensity does make a difference, though. Higher intensity stretching can be traumatic to stretched tissue, which can induce an inflammatory response.
Lower Risk Of Injury
When you enter your golden years, reducing the risk of injury is paramount. Stretching works to create force-length relationships between your muscles. In doing so, muscles can produce and manage a greater amount of force at various lengths. This means that stretching helps you reduce the risk of muscle and tendon-related injuries. Additionally, elongating muscles improves the body’s ability to maintain balance and avoid falls, which is common in elderly people. By reducing the risk of falling, you ultimately reduce the risk of broken bones, head trauma, and more.
Increase Blood Flow
As we mentioned earlier, stretching helps to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system. This contributes to the dilation of blood vessels to the muscle, so stretching works to increase blood flow to your muscles. This is especially beneficial for older adults who deal with health issues that compromise optimal blood flow. As you age, blood pressure can be a concern, especially if you eat foods in the Standard American Diet. Stretching regularly, then, may stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system to enhance blood flow.
It’s very common to both ignore stress and stretching. The world is full of negative stressors that activate the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the body’s fight or flight response. Prolonged stress, or failure to manage stress, contributes to inflammation in the body. Raised inflammatory markers can contribute to early signs of aging and may increase the risk for age-related illnesses. The simple act of stretching can not only relax the body, but also activate the parasympathetic nervous system to reduce inflammation. The parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for the body’s rest and digest state, which is essential for healing.
Improve Sleep Quality
Many things happen when you get older: your joints creak, your metabolism slows, and you experience lower quality sleep. Several surveys identified that older adults have a more difficult time falling asleep. It’s also common for adults to experience difficulty winding down before bedtime. Not only does stretching help with the wind down process, but it also makes the body more limber, reducing the risk of nighttime spasms or pain. Stretching activates the body’s rest and digest state, helping it wind down and bring about mindfulness. In addition to stretching, minimize your nighttime screen activity to calm the body and promote more restful sleep.