In gym class or on sports teams growing up, we often learn that stretching is a warm-up or cool-down from other activities. But this isn’t the full story—stretching and increasing flexibility are important for health in their own right. Stretching is known to ease a host of other issues, including improving posture, range of motion, and having increased flexibility which improves one’s ability to perform other athletic actives, and cut down on overall physical pain.

What are the benefits?

Stretching is an essential component of any physical activity regimen. Moving each set of muscles, stretching increases blood flow to the muscles and improves overall circulation. So much of our pain day-to-day is caused by tightness and inflammation. Whether in the upper or lower body, muscle tightness is often the cause of back pain and overall stiffness. With muscles that are short and inflexible, movement is hindered and pain increases. By stretching the muscles regularly and improving overall flexibility, the body is able to recover, prevent injury, and loosen up to alleviate built up tension.

Beyond just benefiting physical fitness and athleticism, stretching offers mental health benefits by providing a relaxing activity. Like meditation, stretching is a way to decompress, relax the body, and cool down the mind after a hard workout or a long day. It’s a stress relief activity that works to lower blood pressure and calm the mind.

Important things to remember when stretching

Warmup before stretching: Even though many consider stretching the first step in any active workout, stretching cold muscles can result in injury. Ideally, stretching should occur after the workout so that blood is flowing, and muscles are warm to avoid over-extending muscles right away and triggering soreness and injuries.

Treat both sides equally: Whatever you do on the left, do it on the right as well. Even if each side is different in terms of flexibility levels, it is important to do movements equally so that your body is balanced, and you don’t wind up with odd tight areas and an unsymmetrical posture or stance.

Focus on tension: When stretching, don’t go all the way to the point of pain—that means you went too far. You want to feel some tension to know you are targeting the muscle and challenging it slightly, but you don’t want to be tearing or forcing any movements.

Don’t bounce your stretches: Hold your stretch for a short period of time but don’t bounce in the position as it can result in too much force, and you may end up with damaged tissue around the joints.

Consistency is key: Make a routine out of it and create a regular practice; one stretch every month won’t add much to your health but a practice of stretching a few times a week will help your fitness, mobility, and physical wellbeing. Fit it into another routine whether that’s after you walk your dog, when you get home from work, or before you wind down to go to bed.