When I was a kid, bending over to grab something didn’t require a warm-up and one or two deep breaths. Just like clear skin and a forgiving metabolism, flexibility is wasted on the young and is something we never appreciate until it’s gone.
But improving and maintaining your flexibility is a must for whole-body health. Thankfully, it’s never too late to start. So if you’re feeling less like Gumby and more like Gollum these days, I’m here to show you why taking just five minutes a day to stretch is totally worth the time and effort.
OK, the award for “Most Obvious Benefit of Stretching” is joint health but it’s too important not to mention. As we get older, the cartilage in our joints — the stuff that literally puts a spring in our step — starts to thin. We also have less fluid lubricating those joints. These factors make them feel stiff, which is why it’s harder to just get up and go. Stretching can help lubricate the joints and improves the flexibility of the muscles and tendons surrounding them for easier, more comfortable movement.
Lately, I fear working on a laptop and staring down at my phone all day has me on the express train to Quasimodo-ville. Adding some stretches to elongate the spine reduces tension and pain and encourages you to stand and sit more upright.
We all know what a sluggish digestive system feels and looks like (silently glances down at her waistband). By twisting and stretching the abdomen, you’re applying pressure to the organs that make up the digestive system, encouraging proper circulation to get things moving again for less bloat.
Not a morning person? Finding it hard to focus on the afternoon? Stretching can give you a jolt of energy when you need it. So before you go for that second (or fifth) cup of coffee or grab a sugary snack when you’re starting to yawn, try stretching for a few minutes to wake yourself up.
Our physical and mental health go hand in hand. Stretching forces you to take a few moments to breathe deeply and focus on your body and nothing else. It’s an incredible stress reducer and an ideal way to meditate by tuning out all the noise of your daily life.
Ready to try it? Here are five stretches to get you started. Remember to breathe deeply throughout each one:
- Standing Side Bend — Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Put your right hand on your hip and extend your left arm straight up. Gently lean to the right as far as you can and hold for 30 seconds. Repeat on the left.
- Seated Twist — Sit on the floor with your legs extended straight in front of you with your fingertips resting on the floor. Bend your right knee so your foot is flat on the floor. Twist your waist to the right, bringing your left arm to the outside of your right knee to assist with the stretch. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat on the left.
- Butterfly — Sit on the floor with your knees bent, the soles of your feet touching and your knees open. Hold your feet with your hands and use your elbows to gently press down on your knees to open the hips. Lean forward and hold for one minute.
- Forward Fold — Stand with your feet hip-width apart, hands down at your sides. Bend at the waist and slowly lower your hands as close to the floor as you can, keeping the legs as straight as possible. Hold for one minute. Don’t be afraid to use a yoga block until you can reach the floor.
- Chest Opener — Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Bring your hands behind your back and clasp them together, interlacing the fingers. You can also bend your arms and hold the opposite elbows. Lift your chin and chest to the sky and lean back slightly. Hold for one minute.
Do you stretch every day? Let me know your go-to stretches in the comments.