Have you ever noticed how we stretch ourselves when we have been motionless for a long time? For example how we intuitively stretch when we wake up or when we have been staring at our computers for too long. When we are inactive for some time, our muscles start getting stiff and blood flow slows down. Stretching helps loosen these muscles and increases the blood circulation, basically waking up both our mind and body. This is why we stretch as an instinct.
The same logic applies to our lives in general. Stretching helps us in remaining flexible as we age. It also helps in preventing injuries. Once stretched, our muscles relax and therefore, are less prone to injuries caused by shocks and jerks which happen during physical events like exercise, sports, or even during less active activities.
Advantages of stretching:
- It reduces tension in stiff muscles. Stretching relaxes the taut muscles and loosens them up. This eliminates the muscle tension- helping you avoid injuries and tiredness.
- Stretching increases blood circulation in the stretched area. Proper blood circulation keeps our muscles nourished and waste free. It also hastens recovery in muscle tissues.
- Increased blood circulation also makes people feel more energetic and happy. Stretching gives you a quick dose of energy.
- Stretching increases the range of movement in our joints and muscles. It keeps us flexible and mobile. If you stretch regularly, you will have no problems in bending over, running or lifting things. There will be no painful muscle pulls as your muscles will be habitual to flexing.
- It corrects our posture. If you stretch your body parts regularly and maintain symmetry, your posture will improve gradually. Correct posture solves a lot of pain problems like neck pain, back pain, shoulder pain etc.
- Stretching improves our flexibility and mobility and this in turn, improves our balance. This leads to less falls and stumbles as we age.
- It acts as a stress relief. When we are stressed, our muscles become taut and tense. Stretching relaxes and loosens up these muscles, helping us let go of the stress in process.
How to stretch:
Stand straight and keep your feet flat. Your feet should be shoulder width apart. Now turn your head, slowly, to the right until you feel a slight stretch in your neck. It should be slightly uncomfortable but not painful. Remember- no tilting. Maintain the same position for 30-40 seconds. Repeat the process above for the left side too. Do this exercise for 4-5 times.
Shoulder and Upper Arms:
Take a towel in your left hand and throw it behind your back. Take your right hand behind your back and hold the other end of the towel. Keep your right hand loose. Now from your left hand, slowly pull your towel up. This will help you stretch the muscles in your shoulder and upper arms. Repeat the same by changing the position of left and right hands. Repeat it for 4 to 5 times.
Shoulder and Chest:
Stand straight and keep your feet flat, at shoulder width distance. Raise your arms at shoulder length and keep them straight. Now move your arms back slowly. It will feel like you are pushing your shoulder blades together or pushing your chest out. Do it till you feel a slight discomfort. Maintain the same position for at least 30 seconds. Repeat it 4-5 times.
Sit up straight on a chair with an armrest. Keep your feet flat on ground. Now slowly turn your torso and head to the left, without moving your hips. Now hold the armrest with your left hand and your right hand on your left thigh. Do it till you feel a slight discomfort. Maintain the same position for at least 30 seconds. Now slowly turn to your right, hold the armrest with your right hand and keep your left hand on the right thigh. Repeat this 4-5 times.
Get on your knees. You can hold on a sturdy chair or bed to do this. Now place your left foot in front. Then place your right hand on your right hip and lean forward from your hips till you feel a slight discomfort. Don’t lean your torso forward. Keep your chest straight. Maintain the position for 30 seconds. Now go back to original position of being on your knees and bring the right foot forward. Repeat the process above with focus on your left side.
Stand straight in front of a wall. Keep your feet flat and at shoulder width distance. Place your palms on the wall, at shoulder length and shoulder width apart. Now put your right foot forward and bend slowly at the knee. Keep bending till you feel a slight discomfort. Hold the position for at least 30 seconds. Repeat the process with other leg.
- Stretching is not a warm up. In fact, you need to warm up by doing a little jogging or power walking before you stretch.
- Slight discomfort is acceptable, sharp pain is not. If you feel regular pain in doing any of the stretches, talk with your physiotherapist or doctor.
- Don’t bounce. It causes injuries. Instead just maintain the position for at least 30 seconds.
- Don’t hold your breath.
- Maintain symmetry while stretching. This means that stretch both left and right sides of your body.