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Why Is Stretching So Important?

Stretching — especially before bed — is an excellent aid for longevity. It has many benefits, from easing stress and improving sleep to reducing inflammation and menopause symptoms (among many more), says Livestrong’s recent article entitled, “Want to Age Well? Do This Every Night Before Bed.” Here are the benefits of stretching before bed for older adults (and everyone else), plus which bedtime stretches are best.

  1. It Eases Stress. Stretching profoundly stimulates the body’s parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for resting, digesting, and healing the body. That’s why a mindful stretching practice before bed is an effective tool to help ground us and inhibit the sympathetic nervous system for better health.
  2. It Reduces Inflammation. Regular stretching can have a great effect on decreasing inflammatory markers in the body. Gentle stretching at a low intensity can help you relax and stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, which has an inflammatory regulating response.
  3. It Can Improve Your Sleep Quality. Age is linked to difficulty falling and staying asleep. Therefore, winding down before bedtime can be challenging for many people. Stretching can also positively affect your sleep.
  4. It Lowers Your Risk of Injuries (Including Falls). Stretching increases the force-length relationship of your muscles, so your muscles can both produce and manage a greater amount of force at various lengths. This can help decrease muscle and tendon-related injuries. Longer muscle lengths may allow the body to maintain balance and avoid falls, which is especially important as we age more effectively.
  5. It Increases Blood Flow. Stretching can stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, dilating the blood vessels to the muscle. Therefore, stretching would also theoretically increase blood flow to the muscles. That’s especially important because some older adults deal with blood flow-related health issues.
  6. It Decreases the Frequency and Severity of Leg Cramps. Leg cramps are more common in older people because the tendons (the connective tissues that attach muscles to bones) shorten as you age. The frequency and severity of leg cramps also relate to poor hydration levels and nutrition deficiencies. Since older people are more likely to be dehydrated and lack certain essential nutrients, this puts them at a greater risk. Stretching at night may alleviate leg cramps.
  7. It Helps With Menopause Symptoms. Light to moderate stretching can likely improve symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes, sleep problems and mood fluctuations.

Reference: Livestrong (June 1, 2023) “Want to Age Well? Do This Every Night Before Bed”

Will Exercise Help My Memory?

The study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, looked at data from nearly 4,500 people in the UK who had activity monitors attached to their thighs for 24 hours a day over the course of a week. Researchers analyzed how their activity levels impacted their short-term memory, problem-solving skills and ability to process things.

Prevention’s recent article entitled, “These 5 Exercises Boost Brain Health and Improve Memory, Study Finds,” reports that the study found that doing moderate and vigorous exercise and activities—even those that were done in under 10 minutes—were associated with much higher cognition scores than people who spent most of their time sitting, sleeping, or doing gentle activities.

The researchers found that people who did these workouts had better working memory (the small amount of information that can be held in your mind and used in the execution of cognitive tasks) and that the biggest effect was on executive processes, like planning and organization.

However, those who spent more time sleeping, sitting, or only moved a little instead of doing moderate to vigorous exercise had a 1% to 2% drop in cognition.

“Efforts should be made to preserve moderate and vigorous physical activity time, or reinforce it in place of other behaviors,” the researchers wrote in the conclusion.

Working out regularly can also lower your risk of cognitive decline and dementia. Exercise activates skeletal muscles that are thought to release hormones that communicate with your brain to influence the health and function of your neurons, i.e., cells that act as information messengers, Malin says.

“This could, in turn, promote growth and regeneration of brain cells that assist with memory and cognition,” he says.

The CDC recommends that most adults get at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity exercise. You can walk your dog if you have one, as a study found that dog owners walk, on average, 22 minutes more every day than people who don’t own dogs.

However, the latest study suggests that more vigorous activities are best for your brain. Getting your heart rate up is key. That can include doing exercises like jogging, swimming, biking on an incline and dancing.

Reference: Prevention (Jan. 28, 2023) “These 5 Exercises Boost Brain Health and Improve Memory, Study Finds”

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