We're all pretty aware that regular exercise is important for being our healthiest selves, but a lot of us seriously undervalue the importance of stretching for an overall healthy lifestyle. It's one of those activities that a lot of us associate with workouts, to be done either before or after, and not something we necessarily think of as being helpful to do every day, regardless of whether or not we hit the gym.
However, according to wellness expert Peggy Hall in a piece for Self, stretching — even just by itself‚ "increases your blood flow and circulation for a healthier body and sends oxygen to your brain for a clearer mind and sunnier moods." And in the same piece, personal trainer Sandra Hahamian noted that when we sit at desks all day, certain muscles grow weak and atrophy, and a few daily stretches can keep those muscles alert, helping to reduce the risk of future pain and injury. She also noted that regular stretching can reduce general aches and pain and keep our bodies in balance.
If you've been feeling like your body is out of sync, or are just looking for a way to increase your overall health without breaking a sweat, here are nine stretches to do daily that will definitely help:
1. Neck Stretch
Kate Parker, fitness writer at Real Simple noted the importance of a simple neck stretch, especially if you sit at a desk all day. She says rotating the neck from side to side opens up muscles that have likely been sitting in place for too long, helping to prevent chronic soreness.
2. Downward Dog
According to athlete and fitness expert Nora Tobin in a piece for The Huffington Post, downward facing dog is one of the absolute most efficient stretches you can be doing. She noted that it not only improves flexibility in calves, hamstrings, and shoulders, it relieves pain in the low back as well as elongates the cervical spine (which relieves tension in the body and head). Check out the above tutorial to see how to do it correctly.
3. Low Lunge
Tobin also highly recommended the low lunge, which — you guessed it — is essentially just a really low version of a regular lunge. She noted that this single move, "improves flexibility in hips and quadriceps [and also] releases the psoas," noting that "tightness of the psoas can result in lower back pain by compressing the lumbar discs." This move is especially awesome if experience a lot of back issues due to prolonged sitting.
4. Hamstring Stretch
Military.com has a series of stretches and workouts based on the fitness models of the military's actual training routines, and believe it or not, a simple hamstring stretch in which you bend gently and try to touch the floor is part of their regular fitness strategy. They also noted that "all stretches should be done daily - even two times daily (am/pm) for about 15 minutes each session for two weeks" before you'll really start feeling a significant difference.
5. Knees To Chest
And in another military series — this time about back injury prevention — an easy knee-to-chest stretch was highly recommended. They say to simply lie on your back and "bring your knees to your chest. You have the option of pulling your knees closer to your chest with your arms and relaxing your upper back and next by laying your head on the floor as well."
6. Pelvic Tilts
In a piece for About.com's health section, yoga expert Ann Pizer recommended pelvic tilts. "I can't say enough good things about pelvic tilts," she wrote. "The first few pelvic tilts reveal any traces of low back pain, but after 10 to 20 rounds, the pain is gone. Do them slowly and keep going until the movement feels fluid and good." See above for a helpful how-to video on form!
7. Cat-Cow Stretch
Pizer also recommended warming up the back with a few cat-cow stretches (the one where you arch your back while on all-fours). "Initiate each movement from your tailbone and let it ripple up the spine. Move your head last of all," she wrote. She noted that the stretch will help "awaken and invigorate your whole body."
8. Active Pigeon Stretch
This is a stretch you may have never heard of, but comes highly recommended by LA-based celebrity trainer Ashley Borden in an article for Fitness. This one will stretch your pelvis and glutes and will help keep you loose and limber as you age.
9. Kegels (Seriously)
OK, so you probably associate Kegels with ladies trying to tighten everything up after childbirth, but Borden says they're actually a stretch from which every woman can benefit. "It's vital to strengthen both the muscles of your pelvic floor and your deep abdominals," she said. "These muscles work together to create a solid base on which everything else can build." So don't be ashamed — get your Kegel on!
Stretching is awesome because it not only can drastically improve how you feel, but it doesn't even feel like real work (and often just feels really good). Just make sure you carve out a little time in your day for this super good for you activity.
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