Did you know the simple act of stretching does a lot more than make you limber? It may help prevent injuries or even illness—all it takes is 10 easy minutes a day.
If you a regular in the gym or you workout consistently, stretching is just as important as working out your body. “Flexibility is the third pillar of fitness, next to cardiovascular conditioning and strength training,” says David Geier, the director of sports medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina, in Charleston, and a spokesperson for the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine. In fact, flexibility can help your body reach its optimum fitness level, plays a role in injury prevention, and can even contribute to staving off conditions like arthritis and more serious illnesses.
When you stretch a muscle, you lengthen the tendons, or muscle fibers, that attach it to the bone. Having longer muscle fibers will help you increase muscle in size when you do your strength training. That means that a more flexible muscle has the potential to become a stronger muscle, too. In turn, building strong muscle fibers may boost your metabolism and your fitness level.
Being more limber also make everyday activities easier on your body and may decrease your risk of injuriy. Common behaviors, like hunching over the computer, can shorten some muscles. That, along with the natural loss of muscle elasticity that occurs with aging, can set you up so any quick or awkward motion (jerk reaction to catch a glass before it falls off the table, for example) could stretch your muscles beyond their limit, resulting in a strain or a tear.
Stretching may also improve your circulation because it helps increase blood flow to your muscles. And having good circulation can help protect you against a host of illnesses, from diabetes to kidney disease. Greater flexibility has even been linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.
A 2009 study in the American Journal of Physiology indicated that people age 40 and older who performed well on a sit-and-reach test (a seated forward bend that measures flexibility) had less stiffness in their arterial walls, an indicator of the risk for stroke and heart attack.
How flexible do you need to be? The general rule of thumb is, you need to be as flexible as your lifestyle dictates. For example, if you are in the gym 5 days a week giving it your all but you can barely reach for your toes, that can be a problem. One of the most important things you can do for your body is regularly stretch before and after a workout. Otherwise, you could end up with an injury and lose all the gain from that time put in at the gym!
To increase your flexibility, start with about 10 minutes of stretching a day, focusing on the major muscle groups: upper body (arms, shoulders, neck), back, and lower body (thighs, calves, ankles). Then, depending on how you typically spend your time, focus on specific stretches for problem-prone areas. So if you’re pretty at a desk from nine to five, you’ll want to give extra attention to your lower back and shoulders. If you’re on the move—picking up toddlers and bags of groceries —concentrate on your hamstrings and arms.
The Ultimate Daily Stretch
Warm up your muscles before you begin with a short walk or some jumping jacks. For each move, breathe out as you stretch and perform each movement in a slow and controlled form. As you ease into each stretch, you’ll feel the muscles relax a bit—that’s due to increased blood flow. Only move to the point of resistance; the stretch should not hurt. Be careful not to bounce, which can cause tiny injuries to the muscles. Complete the whole sequence here, designed by Emmanuel Durand, head coach for the Cirque du Soleil show O, in Las Vegas, and Angelique Janov, a certified Pilates instructor and a contortionist coach for O. It should take about 10 minutes.
For Your Upper Body
Especially helpful if you sit at a desk all day, need to work on your posture, or carry tension in your upper body.
1. Place your hands on the back of your head and gently push it forward with your chin tucked. Hold for five seconds.
2. Now place the heels of your hands on your chin, fingers pointing toward your ears. Gently push your head back. Hold for five seconds.
3. Rest your right hand on the top of your head and gently press your right ear toward your right shoulder. Hold for five seconds. Repeat on the other side.
4. Raise your arms and clasp your hands above your head; imagine lifting and lengthening your spine. As you bend to the left, release your hands. Grasp your right elbow with your left hand and pull it to the left. Hold for five seconds. Come back to the center and repeat on the right side.
For Your Back
Especially helpful if you are prone to lower-back pain or like to run for a workout.1. Lie on your stomach, legs straight and feet shoulder-width apart.
2. Place your hands on the floor under your shoulders and slowly lift your chest up. Hold for 10 seconds.
3. Come to a standing position with feet shoulder-width apart and pointed to the right. Lift the toes of your right foot off the ground, bend at the hip, and fold your body over. Hold for 10 seconds.
4. Come back to a standing position and repeat on the left side with toes pointing to the left.
For Your Lower Body
Especially helpful if you wear high heels frequently or like to run, walk, bicycle, or use an elliptical machine.1. Sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you.
2. Lift your right leg off the floor, holding it with both hands. Flex your foot and hold for five seconds. Lower and switch legs.
3. While still seated, bend your right knee and lift your leg. Pull your knee to your chest. Flex your foot and hold for five seconds. Lower your right leg and repeat with the left.
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What is your favorite stretch?
Khyrunnessa Rabbani - I am perfectly imperfect! I am passionate about health and fitness but lack the bod and six pack to prove it! .Love your body and yourself and the rest will fall into place.