Fuel Yourself//

How Your Brain and Body Benefit From a Quick Stretch Break

Improve your circulation, release stress, and give yourself a pause.

KimSongsak / Shutterstock
KimSongsak / Shutterstock

From the moment you settle down at your desk in the morning to the first moment when you stand back up, does it feel like nearly an entire day has flown by? If that resonates with you, rest assured you’re not alone: One in four people spend more than eight hours a day sitting, according to research published in JAMA. All this uninterrupted time spent hunched over our work can leave us feeling stiff and achy in the short term, and can have worse consequences to our health in the long run, like higher risk of developing high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes, the U.S. Surgeon General’s Office reports.

The good news is that even light movement in small doses throughout the day, like a simple stretch, can help reduce these harmful consequences. A study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity found that this kind of little interruption — what the researchers call “microbursts” of activity — can prompt an observable boost in energy and mood, counteracting fatigue and even reducing snack cravings. What’s more, the study found that these benefits can stay with us throughout the day. “Introducing short bouts of activity during the workday of sedentary office workers is a promising approach to improve overall well-being at work,” the researchers write.

A quick stretch break is a great opportunity to hit pause on your work and get your blood flowing again, leaving you feeling refreshed, refocused, and newly energized. When you stretch, you’re not only promoting circulation through parts of the body that may have been tight or knotted. You’re also releasing your breath from its habitual stress patterns, from being shallow and stuck in your chest and throat. A proper stretch should feel like a gentle sensation of resistance and release, though not pain, Harvard experts say, and should be held for at least 30 seconds for optimal effect. Practicing the Microstep of taking a short stretch break can help you be more mindful of when your body needs a quick refresh — and when you give your body a break from work, your mind will follow suit.

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