When most people think about exercise they do not think of stretching first. Exercise consists of three different activities-cardio (running), strengthening (think weight lifting or push-ups), and stretching. Stretching is super simple and is the easiest of these but is so often passed over because the benefits are not always quickly apparent.
I think of myself as well versed in stretching because of growing up doing ballet. Most kids learn some stretching but it is hard to really understand why we stretch. Stretching helps to elongate your muscles that get tight from doing cardio and strengthening exercises. Stretching also helps to improve your flexibility so you can do things like reach the pot on the top shelf, wash your back, touch your feet to tie your shoes and other every day activities that you might take your range of motion for granted.
As we get older we tend to lose our flexibility and as a result, our ability to do many mundane tasks. Practicing stretching can help keep you more mobile as you get older and truly improve your quality of life. Starting at any age will only increase your ability to stretch more as you get older. Stretching can also help prevent you from getting injured or feeling sore after exercise. It helps to move potential toxins out of your muscles and improves lymphatic flow to detoxify your body and keep you feeling bright eyed and bushy tailed!
Where do you start with stretching? I really like to stretch my hamstrings to start out. Our hamstrings are on the back of our leg (your quadriceps are in the front). To best stretch these muscles you need to have your knees straight. Practicing this stretch regularly can help improve your flexibility in your legs, especially if you sit frequently with your knees bent.
If you have strong balance you can stretch your hamstrings while standing up. Relax your body to try to touch your toes. You can also sit on the floor with your back against a wall if you need extra support. You may notice that, when you are sitting with your back straight, touching the wall, with your knees straight in front of you, you feel a stretch in the back of your legs. If you do, great! You found your first stretching practice to work on. If you do not feel a stretch, reach your arms up to shoulder height and bend your body forward, keeping your arms at shoulder height, until you feel a stretch. You may also do this stretch while sitting on the edge of a chair. Be sure that your knee is straight.
A second stretch that I enjoy is for my calfs, the back of the lower leg. To do this stretch, stand at the bottom of the stairs with a railing for support. Standing on the first step, move one foot so your heel is not on the step, just your toes. Bend your opposite leg but keep your first leg straight. You should notice a slight pull in your calf muscles. Hold this for 5 seconds and switch legs. Repeat 2-3 times when you are first doing this practice and increase over time, adding a repetition every week.