If you're not someone who stretches every day, maybe it's time to change your ways. "The older we get the more likely we are to be tight and have our muscles pull onto our skeletal structure and throw us out of whack," says fitness trainer Joel Harper, author of the newly released book Mind Your Body, and creator of the "You" workouts with Dr. Oz. Stretching opens up the body's muscles, so that there is an increase in blood flow. "When you stretch, you elongate your muscles around the joints which helps to increase the range of motion and in turn helps to avoid injury," Harper says. Stretching can also reduce stress, improve mood and just generally make you feel better, says Jacque Crockford, exercise physiologist with the American Council on Exercise (ACE).
In terms of how often you should stretch, "I look at stretching like flossing your teeth. Hopefully you floss daily, but also when you have food in your teeth," says Harper. Stretching is the same, doing it daily will help you feel better, but you can also do it when your muscles feel tight or body feels off. As for finding the best stretches for you, here are eight stretches that don't require getting on the floor or using equipment. They are easy and effective.
One thing to note, says Crockford, "Do not hold a static stretch if there is pain. This is a sign you are stretching too far and should back off. Stretching may be challenging but should also feel like good tension."
What it does: Stretches your arms, chest, and shoulders
Get ready: Stand with your feet comfortably apart. Take your hands and interlace them behind your tailbone with knuckles down.
Go! Looking straight ahead and with soft arms, gently drive your arms up and as far away from your tailbone as you can. Go to where you feel a nice stretch and take five deep breaths into your chest.
What it does: Stretches your neck and shoulders
Get ready: Bring your arms in front of you with your elbows touching, and your palms facing you with the sides of your pinkies touching.
Go! Put your palms on top of your head and using the weight of your arms, gently drop your chin to where you feel a nice stretch in your neck and shoulders. Take five deep breaths into your upper back and into the tightest areas releasing any unnecessary tension.
What it does: Balances your hips, stretches your legs' hamstrings and lower back
Get ready: Put your feet together and flat on the ground.
Go! Slowly bend forward at your waist and walk your hands down your legs, as low as it feels comfortable. Then alternate bending one knee and keeping the other leg straight (but still keeping your feet flat) and let your head dangle down, releasing all your tension. Stretch each side for 15 seconds. If one side is tighter stay there longer to maintain muscle balance.
What it does: Warms up and loosens your hips, increasing mobility
Get ready: Stand with your feet together and hands on your waist.
Go! Circle your hips five times clockwise and then five times counter-clockwise. Pretend there is a string from the top of your head elongating your spine, resist moving your shoulders, keep your stomach pulled in, and focus on moving your hips in as wide a circle as possible.
What it does: Stretches your arms
Get ready: Stand with your feet hip-width apart and roll your shoulders down and back.
Go! Reach your right arm to the ceiling keeping your shoulder down away from your ears. Bend your right elbow, placing your right hand toward the middle of your back with your palm facing your back. Reach your left hand to the ceiling and place your fingers on your right arm, just above the elbow. Hold the stretch position for 15-30 seconds. Repeat 2-4 times, trying to stretch a little deeper each time.
What it does: Aligns your spine and improves your posture
Get ready: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and toes slightly angled out. Interlace your hands and bring them up to chest level, about six inches in front of your chest, with palms facing away from your body, and your elbows out to either side.
Go! From this position, and while keeping your lower body stationary, twist your upper body from side to side to where it feels comfortable, leading with your elbows, and keeping your head in line with your torso. If you prone to getting dizzy, keep your gaze forward. Do 10 times.
What it does: Stretches your back
Get ready: Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your arms by your sides. Brace your abdominal muscles to stabilize your spine. Pull your shoulder blades down and back. Keep your chest lifted and your chin tilted up slightly.
Go! With a slight bend in your knees, shift your weight over your heels and slowly begin bending forward at the hips. Keep your abdominals braced and your back flat. Place your hands on the table. Keep your arms straight so there is a line from the shoulders, through the elbows to the wrists. With your hands on the table, keep your legs directly under your hips. Lean back into your hips, straighten your legs and draw your body toward the ground, maintaining a flat back. Keep your chin tucked into your neck to stabilize your spine and to keep your head from dropping towards the floor. Hold the stretch position for 15-30 seconds. Repeat 2-4 times.
What it does: Stretches your thighs and improves flexibility
Get ready: Stand with your feet together and arms at your sides.
Go! Put your right hand on a wall or table for support, then balance on your right leg and bend your left knee back, bringing up your left foot until you can grab the ankle with your left hand. Maintain a straight line from the top of your head to your tailbone. Keep your chest lifted and take five deep breaths, then switch sides.
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