Active Recovery

Here’s What Happens To Your Body When You Actually Stretch Every Day

Photo: Getty Images/Mihail Mihaylov
No matter how many times you hear a fitness trainer sing the praises of stretching, it's an easy part of your recovery routine to dismiss. (There are dishes to wash! Work to do! A 10-step beauty routines to get through!) But just like other daily rituals that reward you over time, taking the time to care for your muscles pays off in the long run. To get more clarity on why, I asked an expert why you should stretch every day (or, okay, at least try to).

As the program director at the mobility-focused studio, Stretch*d, in New York City, Jeff Brannigan knows a thing or two about active recovery. "Consistent stretching trains your muscles over time to reach their optimal length," he says. "Over time, you are making measurable change in your body by lengthening the resting state of these muscles." He adds that when you unlock one part of your body, other areas tend to loosen up as well. "For example, gaining flexibility in the shoulder area could relieve tension in the neck area as they are closely related," he explains.

In time, a daily stretching routine offers a whole lot more than the ability to touch your toes or do the splits. Here's why your stretching routine should last a life time, according to Brannigan.

4 things that happen when you stretch every day

1. You increase blood flow

"Stretching bring blood flow to muscles that are often underused throughout the day, helping them feel less tense and more relaxed," says Brannigan. "This boost in circulation helps revive muscles—almost like rehydrating them with a fresh supply of nutrients." So if you've been sitting at your desk for the last five hours (guilty), consider this your sign to get up and do a quick downward dog.

Research also shows that stretching increases blood flow to your brain, which can help you return to your desk clear-headed and ready to cross off the rest of your to-do list.

2. You activate your parasympathetic nervous system and calm yourself down

Have you ever walked out of a yoga class and felt like a week's worth of stress was deleted in the last hour? This is no coincidence. Stretching targets your parasympathetic nervous system, or the rest and digest state that tells your body and mind to relax. You get to bring this cool, calm, and collected feeling to the rest of your day.

3. You elongate your muscles

This is the obvious one, but don't overlook it! "As you elongate these muscles, you're also building flexibility and increasing range of motion over time," says Brannigan. "A daily practice helps the muscles (and the brain) remember this state. The more you do it, the better you get at it. Muscle memory is real! We say that stretching consistently is best to help build flexibility. Ten minutes a day is better than an hour once a week." You can make it a habit by stretching right after you brush your teeth or right before you crawl into bed at night. (My personal favorite tip is stretching while I watch Netflix or for the length of five Taylor Swift songs, but you do you.)

4. You release happiness-inducing endorphins

Just like all forms of exercise, stretching releases happiness-boosting endorphins (especially in its more vigorous forms, like sun salutations). Pair that joy with the calm you get from your parasympathetic nervous system, and you'll experience a full mental refresh after just 10 minutes of ooey-gooey stretches. Hey, I'm not stretching a miracle—but it's pretty darn close.

Queue up this 20-minute stretching routine to check off your daily dose of recovery: 

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