Thursday, February 21, 2013

Stretch for Health

A big part of promoting health in your body is keeping oxygen flowing, blood circulating, lymph fluid moving, etc. Exercise is wonderful for these things. But I think equally important is a habit of stretching. (Some exercise programs also incorporate stretching, which is great!) 

Stretching is especially vital for those who aren't physically able to exercise. For several years I couldn't even get off the couch let alone exercise.  

Doing stretches daily, even if it's only for 1 minute, can help promote healing in your body. If you've been unable to do any exercise for a long time, be sure to start slowly with only a few stretches. Don't push your body too hard. 

When I first started doing stretches, I literally did about 45 seconds, then I collapsed back on the couch. But gradually I was able to do 1 minute, then 2 minutes, 4 minutes, etc. 

If you already have a regular exercise routine but haven't been stretching, I'd encourage you to add some stretches. Keeping our bodies limber and fluid is important for many aspects of health.

Here are some basic stretches I've learned over the years. 

1) I like to begin with this one and usually do it 2 or 3 times:
Take a deep breath in as you raise your arms up (I make loose fists and pull them up past my head with elbows out as I raise my arms), then exhale slowly as you lower your arms straight out to the sides. 

2) Link your hands together behind your back and then very gently raise your arms to stretch and hold for several seconds.

(Note: It's good to hold the stretches for several seconds, some experts even say for up to 20 seconds. But only do what you can without overly stressing yourself. If you can only hold the stretch for 4 or 5 seconds, that's ok. Just start there.) =) 

3) Stretch your neck by turning it to one side and holding, then turn to the other side and hold for several seconds. Then face forward and lower your head straight down, feeling the stretch through the back of your neck.

4) Do a corner stretch: put one foot slightly in front of the other facing into a corner. Then place your arms at right angles up on the walls, (like a football goal post). After holding for several seconds, move your arms straight up on the walls as far as you can stretch them. 
This is a really good stretch for the back, chest and arms. 

If you can't stand up to stretch, then try some stretches laying down:  
5) Lay flat on your back. Gently bring one knee up to your chest as close as you can. Then relax that leg and bring the other knee up to your chest. Then bring both up together.

6) Laying on your back, stretch your arm straight out to the side then gently turn your hips the other direction and feel the stretch up the side of your body. Repeat on other side.

Another thing you can do to just help your body relax is to lay flat on your back, arms resting at your sides, no pillow (or a small one to support your neck). Close your eyes and breathe slowly and deeply. Think about relaxing every muscle in your neck, back, arms, etc, all the way to your toes. Stay in this relaxing position for a few minutes and feel your muscles unwind.

There are many more stretches that are helpful. You'll find numerous diagrams of different stretches here.

I've also learned several new ones from my physical therapist. Every time I try a new stretch I realize how tight that specific area of my body is. Our bodies were made to move, but in today's world that happens less and less. Thankfully, as we work on stretching consistently, we can experience the positive effects of our bodies relaxing, moving more fluidly, and strengthening overall health.

I'd love to hear what you you have a favorite stretch? Or what keeps you from doing stretches every day?

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