Both literally and figuratively! Most of us do not stretch enough – and that includes work out junkies like me. It is important for the body to stretch, especially if you are active. It contributes to range of motion, flexibility and injury prevention. It improves your athletic performance – if you are a runner or cyclist, it will make you a more efficient runner or cyclist; if you lift weights, it will aid in strengthening your muscles. It keeps muscles from getting tighter and tendons from getting shorter which is often what contributes to injuries. It also encourages the release of endorphins, which reduces stress and encourages an optimistic outlook. And it can help you sleep better if you stretch before you go to bed.
Even if you aren’t regularly physically active (if this is the case, that needs to change so see the information below on figuratively stretching yourself), including stretching in your daily routine is just as important to health and body functioning as regular exercise. It relaxes your muscles and increases blood flow and nutrients to your cartilage and muscles which improves energy levels and increases stamina. Stretching also has other benefits such as improving your posture, reducing soreness, and paired with a healthy diet, helping reduce cholesterol. And it is easy – it doesn’t require any equipment or much time! You can even do this while doing other things – having a conversation with someone, watching a movie, etc.
It is also important for the mind and spirit to stretch yourself – push the boundaries of your comfort zone. Doing this regularly will make change easier because you are doing just that more regularly. Staying within your comfort zone is more comfortable, but stretching yourself shows you the possibilities of what you are capable of achieving. When was the last time you did something new? Whenever you do, you are stretching yourself. Have a bucket list? Everything on there is a new experience, aka stretching yourself.
I recently did something for the first time – I did a triathlon. I have been a runner and very active for several years. But I do not like swimming. I have had a healthy fear of the water for quite some time, and I’ve had a couple of bad experiences. I decided this summer that I would do one, and I put a plan in place to train. I started in a pool and was really frightened at first. Close to the race, I swam in open water – and that scared me too. On race day, my heart was pounding as we got in the water. I had trouble breathing and getting a rhythm at first. It took every ounce of my courage to keep going and know that as long as I worked through the fear, I could do it. And I did – and I was really proud of myself for doing something I once said I would never do. I realized what I was capable of because I stretched myself. And then I physically stretched my muscles after the race, of course!