Stretching offers a variety of advantages, especially when it comes to healthy aging. It is common for people to prioritize exercise when wanting to achieve good health, often neglecting the benefits of stretching. Stretching delivers a holistic, relaxed sensation to your mind and body alike.
It’s true; stretching before bed is a terrific way to promote longevity by reducing stress and improving sleep, as well as reducing inflammation and menopause symptoms (among other advantages).
In this article, Jake Harcoff, CSCS, founder of AIM Athletic and a certified strength and conditioning specialist, discusses the advantages of stretching before bedtime for older individuals (and everyone else) and which stretches are best before hitting the hay.
In Harcoff’s view, the key ingredient missing in most people’s fitness routines is a strategy for coping with the vicissitudes of daily life.
Top 7 Benefits Of Stretching At Bedtime For Healthy Aging
- Relieves Stress
Inflammation in the body can significantly impact healthy aging if there is a failure to manage prolonged stress that ends up contributing to it properly.
Harcoff says that stretching before sleep can help reduce stress by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system, which governs resting, digestion, and wound healing. He recommends starting your day with mindful stretching to ground yourself and inhibit the sympathetic nervous system for better health.
- Reduces Inflammation
Inflammation can lead to severe problems if it becomes chronic, Harcoff says. Involved in many diseases, including heart disease and stroke, cancer, diabetes, and obesity, among others, Inflammation is considered a silent killer that needs to be looked out for.
“Regular stretching can be very impactful on lowering inflammatory markers in the body,” Harcoff says. He says that gently stretching at a low intensity can relax and stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, which has an inflammatory regulating response in the body.
Harcoff says that the level of intensity makes a difference. “Stretching at higher intensities can be traumatic to the stretched tissue, which would have an opposite inflammatory effect,” he says.
- Enhances Sleep Quality
In addition to creaky joints and slowed metabolism, aging paves the way for a lesser quality of sleep. According to the National Library of Medicine, age is associated with a stricter time of falling and staying asleep.
Furthermore, winding down before bedtime can be a real challenge for many people, especially if you’re all keyed up from the day, and your body remains in a sympathetic state (i.e., flight or fight mode).
According to Harcoff, it is crucial for aging health to manage our stress levels so that the body can rest and repair, mainly when we sleep, when most of these processes occur.
Stretching is excellent for reducing stress and improving sleep, as we all know. Where stretching excels, according to Harcoff, is as a tool for relaxation and mindfulness. Harcoff says that many sleep experts recommend switching off screens before bed and establishing a mindfulness routine.
- Reduces Risk Of Injury Or Fall
Light stretching can activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which calms your body down. In addition to avoiding injury as we age, stretching can help us steer clear of injuries.
According to Harcoff, stretching increases the force-length relationship of your muscles. In other words, your muscles can produce and manage a more significant amount of force at various lengths. Doing this may help decrease muscle and tendon injuries, as a result.
Longer muscle lengths may help the body maintain balance and avoid falls as we age, Harcoff says. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of four senior citizens will tumble every year, and 20% of these tumbles will result in serious injuries, such as fractures or head trauma (CDC, 2012).
- Increases Blood Flow
Stretching can increase blood flow to the muscles, theorizing that the parasympathetic nervous system is stimulated and blood vessels dilate, Harcoff says.
Regular stretching is vital for maintaining good blood flow, which is crucial for health as we age. Because blood pressure is a significant concern for many individuals as we age, stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system regularly might be a good strategy, Harcoff says.
- Decreases Leg Cramps
According to the Cleveland Clinic, 33% of adults over 60 experience leg cramps bimonthly, painful involuntary muscle contractions that usually affect the calf, foot, or thigh. Leg cramps are more common as you age.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, leg cramps are more common in older people because the connective tissues that attach muscle to bone (tendons) shorten with age.
Leg cramps are also a sign of poor hydration and nutrition, according to Harcoff. People aged 50 and older are more likely to be dehydrated and deficient in certain essential nutrients, thus putting them at a higher risk.
According to a small study published in the March 2012 issue of the Journal of Physiotherapy, stretching before going to bed may help reduce leg cramps in older individuals. On the other hand, the bad news is that stretching at night may alleviate leg cramps.
- Helps Manage Menopause Symptoms
Menopause can be a trying time in a person’s life, from hot flashes to sleep problems and mood fluctuations. While you cannot prevent the physiological changes that occur in menopause, you can help reduce the discomfort by stretching before bedtime.
A small study published in August 2016 about Menopause reported that doing 10 minutes of stretches before bed decreased menopausal and depressive symptoms in 40 middle-aged Japanese women.
Harcoff states that light to moderate stretching is likely to improve the symptoms of menopause but that if the stretching becomes excessively vigorous, it may have a detrimental effect.
Choose five to 10 stretches to stretch for relaxation, stress relief, and recovery, Harcoff says. Hold each stretch for 30 to 60 seconds for the best results.
How To Practice Bedtime Stretches For Relaxation?
Harcoff says that if he decides to stretch before bed, he will most likely stretch whatever feels the tightest, namely, whatever muscle group he trained that day or the previous day. When you have a leg day, give your lower body extra TLC and focus on stretching your significant muscles, such as quads, hamstrings, hips, and glutes.
Harcoff says that stretching the psoas muscles (a long muscle that runs from your lower back to your thigh and is responsible for flexing your leg) before bed may help you relax more effectively.
The vagus nerve (a component of the parasympathetic nervous system) connects to the psoas via the diaphragm and the medial arcuate ligament, Harcoff says. When the vagus nerve is stimulated, it can significantly impact relaxation and bring us into a parasympathetic state, he says.
A few excellent psoas stretches include the runner’s lunge, glute bridge, and modified extended side angle pose. Remember that no matter which stretches you choose, they should be gentle and mild on your muscles.
According to Harcoff, the level of stretch intensity should be 60 percent of your maximum stretch. In other words, stretch until you find the first point of discomfort and then back off just enough until that discomfort is no longer felt, he says.