Stretching is one of those activities that pretty much everyone knows they should be doing more often—especially in the early morning hours when your body feels stiff and achy—but setting aside a few minutes to touch your toes before making your way to the kitchen may get filed away in the "maybe tomorrow" category. But let's be clear: The benefits are undeniable.
Yes, stretching boosts flexibility and warms up your muscles for more strenuous workouts as it sends blood flowing throughout your body. And, as untold millions of yoga practitioners across the world will tell you, stretching is a fantastic way to relieve your stress. But while there are some negative side effects associated with stretching more every day—if you're overdoing it or "bouncing" too much, you can put unnecessary and harmful stress to your body that can cause damage—there's a lesser-known benefit to stretching first thing in the morning that you may or may not be aware of: Some of that blood flow from stretching goes to the brain, and you'll be instantly giving yourself a much-needed mental boost from the get-go.
"Static stretching can serve to increase blood circulation to the brain, reduce stress and tension, and help with improvement in mood," Nailah Abdulbaaqee, M.D., a provider at One Medical, explained to Bustle. According to Jan Tregre, DPT, you'll find that morning stretching will increase your energy levels, reduce your fatigue, and "leave you feeling invigorated."
According to the folks at Healthline, the invigorating effects of stretching in the morning can even allow you to move your coffee to a later time, when it may be more effective. (As Dr. Karan Rajan, MRCS, MBBS, BSc, a London-based surgeon, recently revealed, 10am to 12pm is the best early-day window for consuming caffeine, as this is the time when your body's cortisol levels naturally start to flag.) What's more, they emphasize that that morning stretch can actually boost your confidence as you head into your morning.
"Morning stretching is the new coffee!," says Kiel DiGiovanni, Co-Founder of SetForSet. "After you've spent hopefully eight hours in bed, your body becomes a little stiff as your joints, muscles, and brain are at rest. To counteract this haze or sluggishness you should be doing five to ten minutes of simple full-body stretches that will improve blood flow and circulation to your brain and body, resulting in a much-needed energy boost. This increased blood flow will help you throughout the day with mental and physical activities."
Another amazing side effect of stretching more? You'll put yourself on the path to lower blood pressure. In fact, according to a new study published earlier this year in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health, researchers found that performing stretching exercises for a half-hour a day, five days per week, is more effective at lowering your blood pressure than going out for a brisk walk.
For the study, researchers at the University of Saskatchewan focused on 40 male adults with an average age of roughly 60 (all with high blood pressure), who were randomly assigned either a stretching or walking exercise routine. Those who stretched utilized 21 different exercises that would last 30 seconds each, followed by 15 seconds of rest. The researchers monitored their blood pressure throughout an eight-week program, and the results revealed that those who stretched had better blood pressure numbers than those who walked.
"This finding is important as it offers people a greater number of exercise options for reducing blood pressure," conclude the study authors. "Considering that walking is beneficial for reducing other cardiovascular risk factors (ie, waist circumference), it might be best to add a comprehensive stretching routine to aerobic exercise for overall cardiovascular benefit."
If you'd like start your day with an invigorating, blood-flow-boosting stretch, here are a few great ones to try. So read on, and for more knowledge that will help you start your day right, don't miss the Secret Side Effect of Sleeping in Too Late, Says New Study.
Knees to Chest
You don't even have to get out of bed to perform this stretch! First, take a deep breath and slowly move both your knees toward your chest by clasping your hands together just below your kneecaps. As you draw your knees closer and closer to your chest you should feel a stretch in both your hips and lower back. As an added bonus, this stretch also helps reduce spinal tension. And for more ways to transform your morning routine, see here for the 5-Minute Fat-Melting Workout That's the Best Way to Start Your Day.
For this stretch, it's probably a better idea to make the journey out of bed and onto a yoga or exercise mat. Lie flat on your stomach and place your hands flat just beneath your shoulders. From here, do your best to keep your elbows in line with your sides and slowly lift your head and chest while being sure to keep the rest of your body (legs, groin,) firmly on the ground. Continue to stretch upward. Hold for 15-25 seconds and then gradually make your way fully back to the floor.
This one compliments the knees-to-chest stretch nicely and can provide some serious relief for anyone who frequently wakes up with lower back pain. While lying flat on your back, raise one knee at a time and ever so gently move it over to the opposite side while keeping the other leg straight. It's important to make sure that while you're doing that your shoulders and upper back remain firmly on the floor. Remember to breathe deeply throughout and repeat on the other side. And for some clever ways to work your muscles more every day, don't miss The Secret Trick for Getting Fit Using Your Toothbrush.
Standing with your feet roughly hip-width apart, stretch your arms directly up and clap your hands together above your head. Next, slowly and gradually lean to one side. As you feel a deep stretch throughout that side, hold for 10-20 seconds and then repeat on your other side. And for more life-changing exercise advice, see here for the Secret Exercise Tricks for Keeping Your Weight Down for Good.