I've been stretching for ten minutes every day for a year - and I've never felt better

Stop skipping that cool down.

Stretching every day benefits: Anna stretching at home
(Image credit: Anna Bartter)

Hands up if you took the time to properly stretch after your last workout? If you're anything like me, chances are, you’ll have done a cursory quad stretch while scrolling on your phone before dashing off to the shower/work/whatever but not much else. In the grand scheme of things, you probably feel like you’ve ticked off the hard work and that stretching is a bit of a waste of precious time, right? And as for proper warm up exercises, seriously - who has the time? 

Even those of us who are more diligent about our flexibility may not be aware of exactly why stretching is (or at least should be) a non-negotiable. Studies show that stretching not only improves flexibility and range of motion, which are all-important for injury prevention, but also reduces stress and improves cognitive function. Pretty impressive stuff.

In all honesty, I used to find stretching really boring. As a high-energy exercise junkie, I wanted to sweat, not stretch. The fitness equivalent of drinking enough water (another thing I’m guilty of not doing), I knew the benefits and why I should be stretching, but I still couldn't muster the motivation. When I did manage it, I spent the whole time wondering when I could stop and get on with my day. 

That said, around 2021 I started to feel plagued by lower back stiffness, knee and neck pain. On the quest for a pain-free body and tired of spending my days in and out of physiotherapy and osteopathy studios, I decided it was time. Years of regular running and high-impact, high-intensity cardio had taken their toll and my plethora of aches and pains were impacting my day-to-day life. After seeing some interesting stats around the benefits of regular stretching (and no longer being able to go for my weekly physio sessions - thanks, multiple lockdowns), I decided enough was enough. Something needed to change.

A year on, and I've been stretching every day for twelve months (give or take – more on that later). Spoiler alert: I’m a convert and am amazed at how different my body feels, and as for that elusive upward dog? I’m crushing it. Read on to find out why I’m evangelical about pigeon pose and more – and, while you’re here, check out our favourite stretching workout, mobility exercises and cool down routine. Turns out, flexible does mean fit...

6 benefits of stretching every day to have on your radar

What is stretching?

Let's take it right back to basics. Stretching might seem simple – and, for the most part, it is – but there are two distinct types of stretching that you’ll want to incorporate into your routine in order to get the most bang for your buck benefit-wise. 

These span static and dynamic stretches. “Dynamic stretching involves moving parts of your body while gradually increasing the range of motion and the speed of the movement to warm up your muscles as you stretch,” explains personal trainer Mandy Wong Outram. “These can include exercises like leg swings, arm circles, or walking lunges." Looking to warm up before you exercise? These are the stretches to choose, recommends the expert.

“Static stretching, on the other hand, involves holding a stretch in a position for a period of time, usually a minimum of ten seconds,” she continues. “This type of stretching helps lengthen muscles and improve flexibility." Examples include reaching for your toes while sitting or standing calf stretches.


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What are the benefits of stretching?

Honestly – where do I start? Stretching is a vital part of any fitness regime. Whether you’re a marathoner or simply walk your dog a couple of times a day, all of us can benefit from regular stretching. And, even better – you don’t need any fancy equipment or loads of time to do it, either (although if you’ve never tried stretching your hamstrings with the aid of a resistance band, I urge you to give it a go – total gamechanger.)

“Stretching offers a huge range of benefits, both as part of a warm-up and post-training,” explains personal trainer Emma Bord. “It’s something that should be done as much as working out - not only for its physical gains but also daily life benefits." 

Like? Well, first and foremost, it helps to reduce our risk of injury by helping to keep muscles flexible and strong, she explains. "This in turn will help joints move through a full range of motion, avoiding stiffness and tightness. It goes without saying that a hugely important reason to stretch is to decrease your risk of injuries by keeping muscles both strong and loose at the same time.” As anyone who has ever felt the deep frustration of being unable to work out due to injury can attest, injury prevention is a huge win.

Next up, let’s discuss mobility and flexibility. While not the sexiest topic, it’s known that regularly practising mobility exercises is key for flexibility. Not only that, but flexibility is a precursor to longevity. Studies show that those of us who are mobile later in life are more likely to live longer and have a better quality of life, than our more stationary counterparts.

Still on the fence? Consider this. Not only will regular stretching reduce your risk of injury, keeping you running – it might even improve your physical performance. “Ensuring you have a good stretch routine will improve your physical performance by increasing muscle blood flow and enabling muscles to work most effectively and efficiently,” says Bord. “In addition, stretching will help to keep muscles flexible and strong, which in turn will help joints move through a full range of motion, avoiding stiffness and tightness and making movements feel more fluid.”

Not to mention, taking time to stretch is a great stress reliever, meaning its benefits extend beyond the physical. Research including this study published in the Journal of Sports Science & Exercise shows that stretch-focused yoga poses can positively impact stress hormones and help us to chill.  “Stretching will help to relax the nervous system and calm the mind,” advises Barre instructor and founder of Meet You At The Barre, Jennie Brown. “It relieves stress. If you’re able to synchronise your breathing with the stretch, you're focusing on breathwork training, too. Bonus points!"

Is there a benefit to stretching every day?

Now, the question we all want to know the answer to: is there any magic to stretching everyday, in particular? In short, yes. "Stretching every day (as opposed to just when working out) can have additional benefits," advises Wong Outram. "It can aid stress reduction, improve relaxation, and enhance blood flow to the muscles that may aid in recovery either from workouts or daily movements."

Furthermore, according to Bord, stretching daily can also help improve posture and reduce upper back and neck pain, especially for those who work at a desk or are fairly static in day-to-day life. Feeling stressed? Taking a couple of minutes to perform light stretches such as some gentle shoulder rolls will also help to calm the mind and offer a mental break.


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I stretched for 10 minutes everyday for a year - here's how I got on

Interested in giving it a try? Full disclosure: I didn’t set out intending to stretch every day, and when I say every day for a year - I mean, more or less. I started off unintentionally stretching more around the time I started swapping hardcore HIIT for slower, strength-based workouts such as barre and Pilates. Rather than setting aside specific time to stretch, I found that gentle stretches were often weaved into the fabric of a lower-intensity class, meaning I was performing moves without even realising it. And guess what? After a few weeks of huffing and puffing, I started to relax into the stretches.

Before too long, I started noticing that my mobility and flexibility were improving. I’d always been able to touch my toes, but I’d long found yoga poses challenging, to say the least. As it turns out, it was my tight and rigid muscles impeding my warrior, rather than my short stature, as I’d previously thought. Who knew?

Don't get me wrong - I still wasn't bendy enough to contort myself into pretzel-like holds (Yoga with Adriene flows, I'm looking at you) but I definitely felt different. Interestingly, my new-found fondness for a good hamstring stretch coincided with spending a lot more of my time sitting at a desk, as my work ramped up a notch - and in news to precisely no one, spending most of your time sitting isn't great for our muscles. So, even those of us with sedentary lifestyles can benefit from stretching (PSA: binging your fave Netflix shows can lead to neck pain and upper body stiffness) and you don't even need to leave your sofa to do it. Win, win!

Twelve months later, it’s safe to say I'm a total convert. Incorporating stretches into my regular daily routine became second nature. For example, my day doesn't start until I've done some good mornings and ankle rotations, and when I’m brushing my teeth, I’ll do some calf raises or lunges. While this might look a bit weird, I've noticed that my morning routine eases those niggles - and, more often than not, I'm keen to workout after doing some stretching, so it's proved a great motivation boost too. 

Stretching everyday benefits: Anna stretching at home

Anna stretching at home on her lunch break

(Image credit: Anna Bartter)

Will I continue to stretch everyday?

Without a doubt - yes. It's a total no-brainer for me: not only are my perma-tight hip flexors a little looser, but I can flow from downward to upward dog with ease, making me feel like a bit of a (bendy) rock star. And the biggest positive? I've yet to return to my physio. Despite being more active than ever, I've remained (for the most part) injury-free for the past twelve months - call it a coincidence, but I definitely attribute it to my new-found stretching regime. 

The benefits of being able to squat and lunge deeper have transcended my workouts - I feel fitter and healthier every day, and my joints are more fluid and less clicky. Regular stretching has made functional movements like easing in and out of the car and bending over to pick things up feel seamless - something that will only become more valuable as I age. 

 And with that, I’m off to do a downward dog.

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Is stretching enough of a workout in itself?

While stretching is undoubtedly one of the best additions to an exercise regime, you can have too much of a good thing. It’s important not to overstretch the joints – if you’re feeling pain, rather than discomfort, it’s time to stop. And, as much as I may wish this to be the case, stretching alone is not enough to maintain a healthy body.

“Stretching is a really important part of an active lifestyle. It’s valuable for our overall wellbeing and physical performance,” agrees Barre instructor and founder of Meet You At The Barre, Jennie Brown, “but it’s not enough by itself! You need to balance it with other areas of fitness, such as cardiovascular exercise and strength training. But anyone can stretch, and everyone should stretch.”

Anna Bartter
Health Writer

Anna Bartter is a freelance journalist who writes about health, fitness and women's lifestyle for publications including Stylist, Metro and Psychologies, among others. 

She's always on a quest to find a variety of fun and functional workouts that give you the most bang for your workout buck and she's passionate about championing movement for everyone's mental and physical wellbeing.