Stretching isn’t only about getting more flexible—it can be a powerful tool to help you reach and maintain a healthy weight.
Your weight is the result of a complex system of lifestyle habits: how much and what you’re eating, your activity levels, hormone balance, stress levels, quantity and quality of sleep, exposure to environmental toxins, and more. Because of this, reaching a healthy weight for your body is not quite as simple as just lowering calories and increasing physical activity. It requires building a lifestyle that helps you control your stress, eat healthier, stay active, and take care of your whole health.
In this article we’ll discuss why stretching is an important (and often overlooked!) tool for your health journey, and how it can help you reach—and most importantly, maintain—a healthy weight in the long run. There is no magic pill or quick fix for weight loss but building a lifestyle that makes you feel better and helps you sustain a healthy weight is nothing short of magical.
"The keys to health and weight loss: stress reduction, sleep, deep breathing, clean water, complete nutrition, sunshine, walking, stretching, meditation, love, community, laughter, dreams, perseverance, purpose, humility, action.”
Body Basics: Proper Nutrition & Daily Movement
First and foremost, consider the goal of your weight loss journey. Do you want to be leaner? Do you want to feel more confident in your body? Do you want to lower your risk of prediabetes, diabetes, or other chronic diseases? Make sure your goal is one that is healthy not just for your physical health, but also your mental and emotional health. You don’t need to look like an Instagram model to be healthy and happy. Reaching and maintaining a healthy weight is an important part of optimizing your health and preventing chronic disease, but the number on the scale isn’t everything. You can build muscle, reduce inflammation in your body, and get leaner without the number on the scale changing. Consider exactly what you want to accomplish (be honest with yourself!) and write down your goals to keep yourself accountable.
Let’s be clear: you’re not going to lose weight just from stretching. There are, however, some surprising ways that stretching can help contribute to reaching a healthy body weight that we’ll discuss. As mentioned earlier, your weight is the result of a number of interrelated factors ranging from your daily food choices to how much sleep you get.
The real power lies in your daily actions: the habits you cultivate day-to-day that either support your goals or take you further away from them.
Eating nutrient-dense meals is one of your most important daily to-dos. You can read more about healthy eating in our blog post, “Nutrition Secrets That Can Help Your Flexibility Training.” The article is a general guide that will help support not only your weight loss journey but also your training goals.
You know the old adage ‘food is medicine.’ Now, it’s time to live it! Everything you put into your body is either energy to fuel it, nutrients to heal and nurture it, or—on the flip side—your diet choices can interrupt the body’s processes and trigger hormone responses that pack on the pounds. Processed foods laden with chemicals can do major damage to your body, even if they are low/zero calories! For instance, diet soda is associated with weight gain and obesity1. Artificial sweeteners can trigger the production of insulin, disrupting your body’s regular metabolic process, as well wire your brain for sweetness—leading to future sugar cravings and other poor nutritional choices.2Eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, healthy fats, and complex carbs form the foundation of a healthy diet. Eliminating processed foods and sugar and opting for a nutrient-dense diet will help you feel more satiated (score!), reduce inflammation in your body, and support your pursuit of a healthy weight.
Staying active is your other essential to-do for reaching and maintaining a healthy weight. The pillars of general fitness are strength, aerobic endurance, and flexibility. It’s important to invest in all three of these pillars, spending time on your cardio fitness, building muscle with strengthening exercises, and improving your flexibility with deep stretching sessions. But it’s not just time in the gym that counts: it’s taking the stairs, walking more, standing up from your desk every hour, stretching at the end of the day, and taking other small actions that keep your body moving. Staying active is a lifestyle habit that’s crucial to weight control. The little things you do every day add up to big change!
“Exercise remains the most common practice among nationally tracked persons who are able to maintain weight loss over time. In fact, 90 percent of people who lose significant weight and keep it off exercise at least one hour a day, on average.”3
Why Stretching Is Important for Weight Loss
Exercise not only burns calories in the moment, but it also increases the rate you burn calories even after you finish your workout. And the benefits don’t stop there. Dr. David Prologo from Emory University highlights the fact that “exercise changes your body’s composition, improves your resting metabolism, and alters your food preferences.”4 Think about that! Working out can reinforce other healthy habits while changing your body. And ultimately that’s the goal: to build a lifestyle that supports a healthy weight from many angles.
Stretching helps to support your road to a healthy weight in even more ways. Stretching can reduce muscle tension, increase blood circulation to the entire body, improve your coordination and balance, and boost your energy levels. These benefits, in turn, can help you:
- Feel less stressed
- Feel more relaxed (mentally and physically)
- Feel stronger and more confident
- Get better sleep
- Reduce pain and soreness in the body
(Don’t you want to stretch right now just looking at this list of benefits? ☺)
When stretching helps you feel more relaxed and less stressed, more mindful, and more energized, it has a big impact on what’s going on in your body.
Controlling your stress through practices like stretching is incredibly important for weight management. Stress causes the body to pump out cortisol (cortisol is commonly referred to as the “stress hormone”), which is okay in the short term (like when you need to dodge an oncoming object or give a speech at work), but chronic, unrelenting stress is super harmful to the body. It can lead to health risks like weight gain, a weak immune system, high blood pressure, and elevated blood sugar levels.
The calming effects of stretching can interrupt the cycle of stress, helping you regain control over your behavior and balance the levels of cortisol in your body. When you’re more mindful and less stressed, you can focus on making healthier decisions for your body rather than defaulting to behaviors like eating on autopilot or watching TV rather than getting your workout in.
Stretching will also help with your muscle function and a concept known as ‘muscle remodeling,’ which is the body’s increased capacity for exercise through physiological, structural, and metabolic changes. From Dr. Prologo: “[Stretching] will help with muscle remodeling, connective tissue strengthening, range-of-motion improvement, joint alignment and potentially blood flow during subsequent exercise.” That muscle remodeling “leads to all the positive benefits of exercise”5 like an improved mood and weight loss.
So how much flexibility training should you do? Our recommendation is to stretch at least a few minutes every day to keep the body mobile, adding longer sessions 2-5x/week (if you’re working on a goal like your splits, try to do at least 3x a week!). If you’re new to stretching, consider our 15-day Touch Your Toes Challenge—it’s a great place to start if you’ve never tried flexibility training before.
Stretch for a Good Night’s Sleep (Quality Sleep Is Essential for Weight Management!)
Most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep every night, and it’s not just the hours that count: the quality of your sleep matters, too. Getting the right amount of sleep for your body has major health benefits: you’ll boost your immune system, lower your risk for serious health issues like diabetes and heart disease, and help your body reach and stay at a healthy weight. When you don’t get enough quality sleep, it can disrupt your hormones, messing with the body’s appetite signals—causing you to overeat and not feel as satiated. Chronic lack of sleep is associated with a higher risk of weight gain and obesity.8
Stretching promotes healthy sleep by relaxing the body and reducing tension. So, let a good stretch lead you to a good night’s sleep. In turn, you’ll be actively supporting your weight loss goals.
"If you’re sleep deprived, your hedonic drive for certain foods gets stronger, and your ability to resist them may be impaired. So, you are more likely to eat it. Do that again and again, and you pack on the pounds.”
The Habits That Stick Are the Ones That You Enjoy
The healthy habits that stick are the ones that you enjoy and that you'll be able to keep up in the long run. It’s not about dropping a few pounds in the short term; it’s about feeling great in your body, doing things you enjoy, and feeling happier and less stressed.
We don’t always have the time to hit the gym or go to a fitness class. But the great thing about stretching is that it's easy to squeeze into the busiest of days because you can do it anywhere! In your bedroom, living room, or maybe even your office. Taking 15-minutes to stretch is a simple way to stay fit on the hectic days (and remember, it’s important to be building a lifestyle that involves moving every day!). It may take some motivation to start, but even after just a few minutes of stretching you'll feel 100% better than when you started. The feel-good nature of stretching is one of its benefits that will keep you coming back again and again (we like to joke that stretching is addictive—and there's some truth to that! Your body starts to crave the feeling of a good deep stretch). After a while, it won’t be so hard to push yourself to get on the mat. Plus, working on a goal like your splits is rewarding and motivating. It gives you a reason to stay excited about working out.
The Take-Away: Use Flexibility Training to Support Your Journey Towards Reaching a Healthy Weight
In the end, the pounds won’t melt away just because you’re flexible—but stretching is an amazing tool that you can use to stay active, lower your stress levels, get better sleep, and overall feel better in the day-to-day. That’s a lot of reasons to keep stretching! All of these factors will help support your goal to reach and maintain a healthy weight. Good luck and enjoy your stretching sessions, knowing that you’re doing great things for your health.
1Zetlin, Minda. “Why Drinking Diet Soda Makes You Gain Weight: A Scientific Explanation.” Inc.com, Inc., 23 Aug. 2018, www.inc.com/minda-zetlin/diet-soda-weight-gain-metabolism-insulin-brain-fat-metabolic-syndrome.html.
2Zetlin, Minda. “Why Drinking Diet Soda Makes You Gain Weight: A Scientific Explanation.” Inc.com, Inc., 23 Aug. 2018, www.inc.com/minda-zetlin/diet-soda-weight-gain-metabolism-insulin-brain-fat-metabolic-syndrome.html.
3Prologo, David. “Is Exercise Still Important to Weight Loss? Absolutely, a Doctor Says.” The Conversation, 30 Dec. 2018, theconversation.com/is-exercise-still-important-to-weight-loss-absolutely-a-doctor-says-103880.
4Prologo, David. “Is Exercise Still Important to Weight Loss? Absolutely, a Doctor Says.” The Conversation, 30 Dec. 2018, theconversation.com/is-exercise-still-important-to-weight-loss-absolutely-a-doctor-says-103880.
5Prologo, David. “Why Stretching Is (Still) Important for Weight Loss and Exercise.” The Conversation, 30 Dec. 2018, theconversation.com/why-stretching-is-still-important-for-weight-loss-and-exercise-97814.
6Prologo, David. “Why Stretching Is (Still) Important for Weight Loss and Exercise.” The Conversation, 30 Dec. 2018, theconversation.com/why-stretching-is-still-important-for-weight-loss-and-exercise-97814.
7“A Good Night's Sleep Can Help You Maintain A Healthy Weight.” National Sleep Foundation, www.sleepfoundation.org/excessive-sleepiness/health-impact/good-nights-sleep-can-help-you-maintain-healthy-weight.
8“Molecular Ties between Lack of Sleep and Weight Gain.” National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 13 July 2016, www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/molecular-ties-between-lack-sleep-weight-gain.