If you’re anything like us, you might skip stretching after exercising sometimes. If you’re tired, hot or out of breath, there’s the urge to just sit down and relax instead of stretching. However, stretching after exercise really does do your body good. And, there are potential risks related to not stretching.
After exercising, your body usually feels loose and warm, and you feel like you really can skip stretching. But the thing is, stretching after a workout isn’t about making your muscles looser; it’s about moving the connective tissue around your muscles. That can make it longer and more flexible that is great for your joints and muscles. It also lowers your risk of injuries, helps you lose weight and improves your blood flow. And, while taking a break and “vegging out” after a workout might feel great momentarily, it can lead to the buildup of lactic acid. Lactic acid is made in your body when you exercise and can make your muscles ache and feel sore. Stretching reduces lactic acid buildup and disperses it, so you don’t end up with concentrated pain.
For heart health, stretching is important because your pulse is elevated and your blood vessels are dilated when you exercise. “This means if you stop too fast, you could pass out or feel sick,” according to the American Heart Association. “A cool-down after physical activity allows a gradual decrease at the end of the episode.”
Helping your heart return to its normal speed gradually not only stops you from feeling ill but also improves heart function over the long term.
There is another big reason to stretch that isn’t physical. So much of the benefit of exercise is what it does to your mood and mind. Exercising releases a lot of “feel-good” chemicals and can enhance your mood. Stretching after exercising helps you focus on what your body is feeling, helps you pay attention to any joints or muscles you should be gentle with. It can help you unwind after getting into an excited state from a workout. Just as it helps bring your pulse down, it can also help you feel the full positive impact of working out. As tension can lead to tighter muscles in your neck and shoulders, stretching all over may help complete your workout and reduce stress if your exercise focused more on your legs.
As enticing as it can be to skip stretching after exercise, there are many reasons to stick to it. It will help your body ease into relaxation in a much healthier way. It’s better for you in the moment and has a long-term impact.