Far too many runners, weightlifters, and other dedicated athletes view stretching as a chore. But the truth is, stretching comes with all sorts of added health benefits beyond simply priming your muscles and joints for action, cooling your body down, and increasing your range of motion. Stretching helps your blood flow, reduces your risk of injury, helps you lose weight, and—as millions of yoga practitioners across the world will tell you—even relieves your stress. After all, your mental state can often manifest itself physically, and one of the surefire ways to calm your mind—and your body—is to stretch.
“Even without formal meditation and controlled breathing, the gentle muscle stretching of yoga can reduce stress,” write the experts at Harvard Medical School. “Stressed muscles are tight, tense muscles. By learning to relax your muscles, you will be able to use your body to dissipate stress.”
But according to a new study published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health, there’s an all-new, positive side effect of stretching every day that you should be aware of: Stretching is terrific at lowering your blood pressure. What’s more, the study found that performing stretching exercises for a half-hour, five days a week, is more effective at fighting hypertension (or high blood pressure, which elevates your risk of stroke and heart disease) than going out for “brisk” walks for the same amount of time.
To complete 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 to add some stretching exercises to your daily routine, we’ve compiled below four of the best stretches that anyone can do. Remember: Do them, and you’ll not only de-stress and loosen your limbs, but you’ll also be looking after your heart. And for more great exercise news you can use starting now, see how This One Workout Drives 29 Percent More Fat Loss, Says New Study.
Standing Hamstring Stretch
Stand with your feet beneath your hips and keep your knees ever-so-slightly bent. Bend forward and lower your head down toward your toes. With your hands behind your legs, hold the pose for 30 seconds.
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Lunge with a Spinal Twist
Perform a lunge by stepping forward and dropping your knee toward the floor, while keeping your trail leg straight. Then, while supporting your weight with your opposite hand (your right hand, if you’re lunging forward with your left leg), rotate your upper body and extend your other hand to the ceiling. Hold for 30 seconds. Be sure to repeat with the other leg.
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Begin this stretch by getting on the floor on all fours, then slowly slide your knees outward while lowering your rear to the floor—keeping your toes pointed outward. Hold for 30 seconds.
Start by standing with your feet together, and use your right hand to pull your right foot up and toward your rear. Hold for 30 seconds, then repeat on the other side.
For more advice that will help you burn fat, don’t miss these Sneaky Weight Loss Tricks That Actually Work, According to Experts.