You know how important incorporating physical fitness can be for your health, but you may not know how essential stretching is as we age. Stretching will keep you flexible, ease pain, improve your balance and keep you physically active for many years. Simply put: the benefits of stretching can’t be overstated.
The Benefits of Stretching
I love to exercise! I have been a gym rat for many years now and have become addicted to the endorphins I get from putting in a great workout. But like many of my fellow exercise enthusiasts, I go for the burn and sweat but slack off when it comes to the cooldown and stretching portion of the workout. I’ve found that many of the people I teach in group exercise classes are the same. Part of the problem is time, but we don’t look at the stretch and relax time the same way as the hard workout. Our brains are wired to think it just doesn’t provide the same benefits. We need to realize that there are great benefits from a stretch program, and if you add relaxation techniques to the mix, you gain even more.
The benefits of a flexibility program include a decreased chance of injury, the opportunity to prevent and correct muscle imbalances, ways to improve posture, and opportunities to enhance strength and power. And it improves flexibility! As we age, we all can use these wonderful benefits. Here are some easy stretches to start your program and have you on the way to feeling great after your workouts.
Slow and Easy
Stretching is best done using a static hold for a minimum of thirty seconds at the end of your workout. Start from the top with your neck and work your way down to your legs. Take your time, breathe, don’t force or lock your muscles, and never bounce. Never push the stretch until it hurts or becomes uncomfortable. Flexibility comes over time, and blood flow to the muscles increases after a long stretch. It won’t take long before you begin to notice the benefits of stretching.
With consistency, even the most inflexible among us can get more limber. As a fitness instructor, I see the importance of stretching regularly. Here are some simple but effective stretches to help you get started and on your way to a stretching program. You may have to build up to the 30-second hold over time, and if at any time you feel uncomfortable, discontinue the movement.
You can either stand or sit. If sitting, make sure you are in a sturdy chair where you can sit with good posture. Place your feet flat on the floor about shoulder-width apart. Turn your head slowly to the right until you feel a gentle stretch. Make sure not to tip your head forward or backward. Hold for a minimum of 30 seconds. Now turn your head to the left and hold for the same amount of time.
Arms, Chest, and Shoulders
Begin by standing or sitting tall. Grab one arm above your elbow with your opposite hand and pull it across your body toward your chest until you feel a stretch in your shoulder. Keep the elbow below shoulder height. Hold for 30 seconds and then repeat on the other side.
Next, stand just beyond arm’s length, facing a wall with your feet shoulder-width apart. Leaning forward with your palms flat against the wall about shoulder-width apart and at shoulder height, slowly walk your hands up the wall as far as comfortable. Keep your back straight, hold the position for 30 seconds, and then walk your hands back down.
In a sturdy chair, slide forward toward the front, positioning your feet about shoulder-width apart and flat on the floor. Keeping your back and neck straight, bend forward from your hips and not the waist. Depending on your current flexibility, continue bending forward toward the floor by sliding your hands down your legs toward your shins. Hold 30 seconds, and then slowly straighten up by walking your hands up your legs.
Stand next to or behind a sturdy chair where it will not be able to move. Hold on to the back of the chair with your right hand. Place your feet shoulder-width apart and legs straight, but do not lock your knees. Place your weight onto your right leg. Bend your left leg back toward your rear and grab your foot with your left hand. Keep your knee pointed toward the floor. If you can’t quite reach your ankle, you can begin by just bending the leg back. You can also loop a towel or belt around your foot and hold both ends. Gently pull your left foot toward your rear until you feel a stretch in the front of your legs. Stand tall, shoulders down and head up and straight. Hold for 30 seconds, and then slowly straighten until you are in a starting position. Repeat on the other side.
Lie back on the floor with the buttocks against a wall in a corner or by a door jamb. Keeping one leg on the floor, place the foot of the alternate leg against the wall and gently push the knee straight so the raised leg and the leg on the floor make a 90-degree angle. Hold the position for 30 seconds and repeat on the other side.
Stand slightly farther than your arm length facing a wall with your feet shoulder-width apart. Lean forward and put your palms flat against the wall at shoulder height and about shoulder-width apart. Step forward with your right leg and bend your right knee. Keeping both feet flat on the floor, bend your left knee slightly until you feel a gentle stretch in your left calf muscle. If you don’t feel a stretch, bend your right knee until you do. Hold for 30 seconds, then return to starting position.
With a regular stretching program, you will notice benefits in flexibility for the muscle groups you use most often in your day-to-day activities. You may not bend very far now, but you will ease stiff joints and tight muscles with a regular stretching routine. Ahhh…!
“Stretching your body and mind is essential to avoid rigidity.” – Haresh Sippy.
Our 5-Minute Barre series on YouTube can help too! Watch below and subscribe to our YouTube channel for more fitness videos and to achieve more of the benefits of stretching.
Robin Anne Griffiths is a published author with two books – a memoir of her mother’s extraordinary life and a collection of thoughts on life skills for personal development. She also writes for a variety of blogs and publications. Robin is a certified master development coach, personal trainer, and behavior change specialist. She also is a movement instructor for senior populations and specializes in helping people on a journey for change. She works with groups and individuals on life transitions to create personal balance – physically and mentally. www.robinannegriffiths.com