Disclaimer: Before you start any new exercise routine, talk to your doctor to make sure it’s safe.

Have you ever watched a cat stretch? This graceful creature arches its back, calm and casual. Then it extends its paws far in front of its body, reaching its maximum length. After a nap, a cat performs these stretches to lengthen its muscles, ease tension and circulate its blood. Don’t you wish we were that flexible?

Like cats, humans who stretch after a long period of rest will soothe tense muscles. You can stretch at any time during the day. Benefits can be felt after waking up in the morning or before going to bed at night.

When we stretch upon awakening, our bodies usher in a relaxed state.

Studies show that stretching in the evening can help improve sleep quality for people with mild sleep disorders.1

Learn helpful stretches through yoga

3 women doing a butterfly stretch on yoga mats outdoors

A stretch a day keeps muscle soreness away

We stretch for the same reasons cats do: It feels good! But that’s not all. Dr. Derek Bennetsen, Senior Medical Director for Teladoc Health, says, “Daily stretching is likely to increase one’s range of motion, flexibility and blood flow to muscles.”

After cats stretch, they’re prepared to leap onto tree limbs and chase squirrels. If cats lacked the instinct to stretch, climbing trees and chasing critters would prove difficult. (Admittedly, such difficulties would make life easier for the squirrels.)

Humans are less instinctive than cats about stretching. Dr. Bennetsen goes on to explain, “We are constantly assuming positions not designed for our bodies. From driving cars to sitting in office chairs or hunching over computer screens. These common everyday events over time can have undesirable effects on our posture and muscle tone.” We do ourselves a major favor when we add stretching exercises to our routines.

Modern lifestyles, accompanied by lots of sitting, can tighten up the soft tissues in our neck, back, shoulders, hips and legs. Stretching these muscles can help relieve stiffness. Other benefits include:1,2,3

  • Relaxation and reduced muscle tension
  • Improved mood and mental well-being
  • Increased flexibility, strength and movement
  • Injury prevention and reduced inflammation

An older woman stretching her back on a yoga mat indoors

Stretching exercises are easy to put in your routine

Stretching your body is easier than you might think. You can practice simple stretches any time of day while sitting, standing, or lying down in as little as just a few minutes.

Here are a few tips for healthy stretching:1,2,3

  1. Always warm up before you stretch.
  2. Stretch smoothly, gently and slowly; do not bounce or strain.
  3. Breathe deeply and relax.
  4. Include muscle groups around your shoulders, chest, neck, low back, hips, legs and ankles.
  5. Start slowly and build up; hold each position for 10 seconds to start and work your way up to 30 or even 60 seconds.
  6. Stretching should not hurt; back off if you feel pain.

Here are some suggestions to help get you on your way to an effortless stretching program:1,2

  • While sitting or lying down, give your legs some love. Stretch your legs and feet out in front of you or in the air, then raise and lower your feet. Flex and then point your toes. Roll your feet around on your ankles to get those joints loosened.
  • While sitting up or standing, look slowly to the left and hold, and then to the right and hold, to stretch your neck muscles. Shrug your shoulders up and down. Roll each shoulder a few times to make them more pliable. To get your arms and hands limber, stretch your arms out and flex your wrists up, down and around. Clench and unclench your hands several times.

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Adding stretches to your routine is a bright idea for getting healthier. Soon enough, you’ll be stretching like a cat. We can’t promise you that, like a cat, you’ll spring up nine times your height from a sitting start.4 But if you get stronger and suppler by stretching, you’ll find it’s easier to land on your feet.

Published September 18, 2023


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