Stretching regularly not only feels good, but also helps prevent injuries, improves circulation, protects joints and strengthens muscles. Moreover, stretching can relieve stress and may even make your skin look younger.
"The biggest misconception is that stretching is just something that athletes do before they work out", according to Dr. David Braun, an orthopedic surgeon at Edward White Hospital in St. Petersburg, Fla. "The truth is we should all stretch before we perform the activities of life."
Aging causes muscles to get tighter and shorter, as does misuse (wearing high heels too frequently) and under-use (hunching over a computer all day). Tight muscles interfere with the way muscles balance one another in our bodies.
"Muscle tightness and inflexibility is the biggest cause of injuries, pain and discomfort in the aging population," Dr. Braun says. Flexibility is key to maximizing a healthy, active lifestyle.
The American College of Sports Medicine says we should stretch all major muscle groups at least twice a week. You also may want to add extra stretches based on your lifestyle or activities. These basic stretches are a great place to start.
What is the difference between dynamic and static stretching?
Static stretching involves holding a stretched position for 10 to 30 seconds. Dynamic stretching is stretching while in motion by doing moves like lunges and arm circles to warm up targeted muscles and improve range of motion. Most trainers recommend doing dynamic stretches before a workout or athletic event and static stretches afterwards.
Sit on the floor and straighten your left leg. Bend your right leg so the sole of your foot rests next to the inner thigh of your left leg. Lean forward from your hips and reach toward your foot. Keep your left foot upright with ankle and toes relaxed. Hold, then repeat with right leg.
Hip, groin, inner thigh
Sit on the floor and put your feet together. Slowly press your elbows onto your inner thighs and hinge forward at your hip.
Stand close to a solid support, and lean on it with your forearms, head resting on your hands. Place one foot on the ground in front of you and bend that leg, with the other leg straight behind. Slowly move hips forward, keeping your lower back straight. Hold, then repeat with other leg.
Kneel on your right knee, toes down, left foot flat on the floor, knee bent and aligned with ankle. Put your hands on your left thigh. Press your hips forward until you feel tension in the front of right thigh. Raise arms overhead, elbows close to head and palms facing each other. Arch your back slightly while keeping your chin parallel to the ground. Hold, then switch sides.
Hold the top of your left foot with the right hand, gently pull your heel toward your buttocks. Hold, then repeat with other leg.
Put your hands behind your head and extend spine. Gently rotate your torso to the left as far as is comfortable, and do a side bend. Return to starting position. Repeat on same side five times, then do on the other side. You should be able to rotate a bit farther on each repetition.
Neck and shoulders
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and arms behind your body. With your right hand, grasp your left wrist and pull your left arm down and to the right. Tilt your head to the right. Hold, then repeat with the right wrist, tilting your head to the left.
Lie on your back. Bend right leg toward your chest. Keep the back of your head on the floor. Try to keep lower back straight. Repeat with left leg.
Tighten your hip muscles and also your abdominal muscles to flatten your lower back. Hold 5 to 8 seconds, then relax. Repeat 2 or 3 times.