When it comes to wellness, people often focus on things like eating the best foods for weight loss or increasing their physical activity. While those factors are key to good health, the benefits of regular stretching shouldn’t be overlooked.
According to Dr. Brionn Tonkin, assistant professor, residency program director, department of rehabilitation medicine at the University of Minnesota, fitness, like a stool, has three pillars.
“There’s aerobic fitness and exercising, that would be like running or cycling; resistance training, so that’s lifting weights and using resistance bands, and the third pillar would be flexibility,” he said.
Tonkin added that flexibility is the one most often ignored, but it shouldn’t be, as it helps improve posture and blood flow and reduces pain in tight joints.
From yoga to workout warmups, here’s a list of stretches that, depending on your specific needs, limitations and doctor approval, you might want to try.
Now, more than ever, people are leading sedentary lives, especially when they’re putting in long hours trying to boost productivity at work. According to Tonkin, increasing flexibility can help counteract all that downtime. He recommends the following stretches that should be done 20-30 seconds each, two to three times in a row, twice a day.
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Whether you’re working from home or in an office, sitting at a desk with arms in front of you can compress your chest muscles. Doing a chest stretch can help, said Tonkin. In order to do this, lace your fingers together and extend them behind your back. Then lift your hands away from your back to increase the stretch.
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To do the cat-cow stretch, get down on all fours with your hands directly below your shoulders and knees directly below your hips. Then alternate arching your back upwards and bowing it down toward the floor. Hold each position for about 10 seconds. It’s the perfect warmup stretch if you plan on doing an easy workout at home.
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Even if you’re not a morning person, the butterfly stretch can be done any time of day. Doing this is as simple as sitting comfortably on the floor, putting the soles of your feet together and using your elbows to push down on your knees in order to stretch your inner thighs.
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There are many ways your body changes when you first start working out, so before getting started, you might want to warm up with a hamstring stretch first. Using a towel or a resistance band, lay on your back, looping the towel or band over the sole of your shoe. Raise it toward the ceiling using the towel or band to pull down on your toes to increase the stretch.
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Doing workout classes or exercise apps at home probably include some type of lunge, so get ready by doing a standing lunge stretch first. Extend one leg behind you, then try to press your heel on the floor to stretch your calf as well. Make sure your torso is upright and push your hips forward to stretch the front of your upper thigh.
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Your job might be stressful, especially if you’re working from home with kids. So take a break and do a glute twist stretch. Extend one leg on the floor in front of you and cross your other leg over it so your foot is on the far side of the down knee and the crossed knee is pointed at the ceiling. Rotate your torso away from the foot that is crossed over and use your arm to push on the backside of your bent leg to increase the twist and stretch your gluteal muscles.
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Not getting enough physical activity is just one of the unhealthy habits you should ditch after 40. According to Kerry Maiorca, board chair of Yoga Alliance and founder of Bloom Yoga Studio in Chicago, physical activity is essential for mind-body health. If you don’t have time to do a full session, Maiorca suggests doing brief interludes of chair yoga poses throughout the workday.
“Whatever poses you try, everything should feel good. If you experience any pain or discomfort, stop,” she said. “The goal is not to push to your end range, instead enjoy the soothing experience of gentle movement and breath.”
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There are a lot of ways to do an easy workout from home, but if you’re short on time because you’re putting in extra hours at your desk, the chair cat-cow pose can help. To do this, Maiorca said to inhale as you rock forward and create openness in the chest. Then, exhale as you rock back to round and release the back body. She recommends using this pose as a moving meditation, linking your breath and movement and savoring the chance to bring some movement back into the spine.
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Doing yoga regularly is just one of the ways you can live a more peaceful life. If you need a break, stand up and do a lateral bend. Maiorca explained how: “Raise both arms overhead, then place your left hand on the backrest of the chair for support. Inhale to lengthen through the right fingertips overhead, and as you exhale gently bend to the left to wake up the side body. You may find this gentle pose makes you want to breathe more deeply.”
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Cardiologists suggest that one of the worst things you can do for your heart is to live a sedentary lifestyle, so if you’re sitting too much, it’s time to get up. The lunge with chair support is good for the hip flexors, which can get shortened from too much sitting, Maiorca said. To do this, put your hands on the chair's backrest or a desk. Then, place the left foot near to the chair, bend the knee, and step the right leg back into a lunge. Press solidly into the left heel and firm the muscles of the extended right leg. The right heel can remain off the ground with hips parallel, or you may turn open the right and press the right heel down if that feels better to you.
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Channel your favorite dog breed by doing one of yoga’s most classic poses: the downward dog. Because the pose can sometimes be difficult for people to comfortably do, Maiorca offered a simplified way to do it. Place your hands on the backrest of a chair, then step the legs back so the torso and legs make an inverted “L” shape. Lengthen the hips away from the hands and extend through the spine to create a spacious feeling in the lower back.
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Yoga is one of the best ways to incorporate a little “me time” into your life and the seated twist is a good pose to try if you’re sitting a lot.
To do it, shift toward the front edge of your seat, then reach both arms overhead. Inhale to find more length throughout the spine, and as you exhale spiral toward your right, bringing your right hand to the chair seat behind you. Let the left hand rest on your thigh. Allow the right hip to shift back in the chair naturally as you twist so the spiraling is distributed throughout the spine. Create length before you twist, hold the pose, then repeat on the other side.
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People who suffer from hip pain often take fish oil supplements as a way to relieve their discomfort. But if it’s due to extended sitting, you may want to try the seated hip release, which can help with mobility.
To do this, Maiorca said to “squarely position your left ankle on your right thigh, keeping the left foot flexed to stabilize. Invite the left thigh to open and descend any amount while maintaining length through your spine, then hinge slightly forward. Hold where it feels right, breathing deeply, then switch sides.”
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According to Maiorca, conscious relaxation is one of the most important pieces of doing yoga, and this includes relaxing with your legs on a chair. To do this, get comfortable on the floor with a blanket or pillow under your head and place your calves on a chair seat so your lower back relaxes. Stay for three to five minutes. While you’re finding your Zen, think about calming things like beautiful botanical gardens.
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Anyone who’s ever had plantar fasciitis knows that it can be a painful condition. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, more than 2 million people are treated for the condition each year. Caused by inflammation, it can feel like a stabbing sensation near your heel at the bottom of the foot. Common in runners and people who wear shoes with poor support, other factors can also contribute like age, weight and jobs that require long hours on your feet.
To ease some of the symptoms, the following stretches suggested by Kaiser Permanente can help. If doing them causes pain, either slow down or stop.
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Pretend you’re splurging at a relaxing spa and sit on the ground with your legs extended in front of you with knees straight to do a towel stretch. Place a towel around your foot, under your toes. Grab the ends of the towel with each hand keeping your hands above your knees, then pull back with the towel so you are stretching your foot toward you. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds and repeat several times a day.
If you’re spending more time at home, all you need are stairs to help decrease foot pain and increase flexibility. Holding onto the banister, stand on a step. Let your heels come slowly over the edge and relax your calves until you feel a stretch across the bottom of your foot and back of your leg. Hold it for 15 to 30 seconds before bringing your heels back up.
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Everyone knows the scary ways that stress can affect your body including causing a stiff neck. There are a lot of other possible reasons for your neck pain, too. According to the Mayo Clinic, everything from carrying a heavy backpack to poor posture can contribute to the problem. Fortunately, there are any number of neck stretches that can help.
A sore neck can be one of the things that happens to your body when you don’t get enough sleep. You can help ease the pain by trying a neck rotation. Either standing or sitting, keep your head in a neutral position, then slowly turn to one side as much as it’s comfortable and hold for five seconds. Return to center, then turn to the other side and repeat. Do this several times, twice daily.
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Even when you do get enough sleep, you can still wake up with a stiff neck and a side bend might help. Sitting straight, facing forward with your head in a neutral position, use your right hand to gently pull your head to the left. Hold for a few seconds, then repeat five times before switching and doing the other side. Make sure to go slowly and don’t force the stretch.
Getting a massage is something every woman should do in her lifetime, but in lieu of one, a shoulder stretch might do in a pinch. Stand and bend your right arm across the front of your body and hold it there with your left hand or arm. Without forcing, gently pull on your right arm and hold for 10 seconds. Switch sides and repeat five times.
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Stretching and building muscle are healthy habits that can help keep you young and are especially important when it comes to your arms. Give the arms a little extra love and attention with these easy stretches.
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Physical activity and practicing self-care are two great habits to steal from people who never get sick. Regular stretching is also a good habit to pick up and this triceps stretch is one of the easiest to do. Simply raise an arm over your head, then gently bend your elbow until your hand is behind your neck. Use the other arm to hold it for 10 to 20 seconds, then switch to the other side. When done correctly, you should feel it in the back of your arm.
Some of the highest-paying jobs require employees to spend hours working at the computer. To help prevent carpal tunnel syndrome, try doing a few wrist stretches. Start by extending your arm in front of you, palm up. Then bend your wrist while pointing your hand toward the floor. Take your other hand and gently pull your wrist further until you can feel the stretch in your forearm. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds, then repeat with the other wrist.
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Adding heart-healthy foods to your diet is one way to take care of your ticker and getting regular physical activity is another. One of the easiest and most affordable ways to get it is through walking. According to the American Heart Association, warming up before walking is important, and the AHA recommends some of the following stretches.
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Taking walks outside can change your life, but make sure to warm up first with an inner-thigh stretch. Standing straight with your torso upright, lunge to one side with your knee bent over your toe. Keeping your other leg straight, lean your weight toward the bent-knee side until you can feel the stretch in the inner thigh of the straight leg, then hold for 20 or 30 seconds on each leg.
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Walking regularly is one of the best things you can do for your heart, but before you head outside, consider doing a calf stretch first. Facing a wall or solid object, stand and place both hands on it. Put one foot forward, with the knee bent, and the other leg straight behind you. Pull your stomach tight and lean into the object until you feel the stretch in your calf. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds. Repeat for the other leg.
Whether it’s a walk up the street or a beginner hiking trail in a national park, a simple palm touch stretch can help get you started. Bending your knees slightly, attempt to touch the floor by bending from the waist. Stay in position for 10 seconds and repeat. While doing it, try not to bounce. If you’ve got lower back issues, do the stretch with your legs crossed.
The wall push is one of the simplest stretches to do. Stand roughly a foot and a half away from a wall, lean in and push with your hands while keeping your heels flat on the ground. Repeat one or two times, holding for 10 seconds each time. It’s good for warming up before a walk or doing any of the all-time best exercises for weight loss.
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