A plan for easy stretching

Stretching becomes crucial as you age. Here is a quick routine that addresses the major tight spots.

Published: July, 2020

Stretching is much like flossing. You know it's good for your health, but for whatever reason, you may not always make time for it.

"Most people know they need to stretch more, but find it burdensome or are not sure what to do," says Urvashi Chogle, a physical therapist at Harvard-affiliated Spaulding Rehabilitation Network.

Regular stretching becomes especially important as you age. Flexibility naturally declines over time, as muscles lose strength and tone, and ligaments and tendons get tighter. In fact, research has shown that men's flexibility often drops sharply around age 70.

The areas that lose the most flexibility are the shoulders, hips, spine, and knees. "This makes many everyday movements more difficult, such as reaching overhead, squatting, twisting, and bending over," says Chogle. "Lack of flexibility also can lead to problems like chronic low back pain, neck pain, and poor posture."

Flexible plan

A good stretching routine does not take much time. Chogle recommends the sequence below, which addresses the main tight spots and can be completed in about five to 10 minutes. The stretches are performed in three positions — lying down, sitting, and standing — with three different stretches in each position.

Always stretch until you feel resistance and then hold that position. Never bounce, and don't stretch too far. Stretching should never feel uncomfortable or painful.

"You can do your stretching when you wake up, to combat morning stiffness, or even as a midday break," says Chogle. Focus on stretching every other day at first, but Chogle recommends eventually progressing to every day. Like flossing, daily stretching offers the best benefits.

SITTING

Side bend

  1. Sit up straight in a chair with your arms extended upward, and clasp your hands, palms in.
  2. Bend from the hip to the right as far as possible without pain or discomfort.
  3. Hold for five to 10 seconds.
  4. Bend to the left and hold for five to 10 seconds. Go back and forth several times, if desired.

Twist

  1. Sit up straight in a chair, arms crossed over your chest or placed down alongside your body.
  2. Rotate your shoulders as far in one direction as possible without discomfort.
  3. Hold for five to 10 seconds, then return to the starting position.
  4. Repeat to the other side.

Forward lean

  1. Sit on the floor, legs extended forward.
  2. Lean forward and reach with both hands toward your toes until you feel a stretch. (You also can wrap a towel around your feet and pull it to help you fold into the stretch.)
  3. Hold for five to 10 seconds, then return to the starting position.

Note: Keep your back flat, not rounded.

LYING DOWN

Knees to chest

  1. Lie on your back and wrap your hands around your bent left leg below the knee.
  2. Slowly pull the knee toward your chest.
  3. Hold for 10 to 15 seconds, then switch leg positions.
  4. Repeat, pulling your right knee toward your chest.

Variation: Bring both knees up at the same time.

Torso stretch

  1. Lie on your back, legs bent, feet flat on the floor.
  2. Keeping your knees together and your shoulders grounded, roll your legs to the left, toward the floor, until you feel the stretch on the right side of your torso.
  3. Hold for five to 10 seconds, then slowly return to the starting position.
  4. Repeat to the right side.

Hamstring stretch

  1. Lie on your back with one leg straight and the other leg bent.
  2. Bring the knee of the bent leg toward your chest. Grab the back of the thigh with both hands. Use a strap under the ball of your foot to assist if you can't grab your thigh.
  3. Slowly straighten the leg until you feel a stretch in the back of your thigh. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds, then switch leg positions. Repeat with the opposite leg.

STANDING

Modified squat

  1. Stand behind a sturdy chair or at arm's length from a countertop, feet apart, hands on the top of the chair or counter.
  2. Slowly lower your torso, bending your hips and knees to assume a semi-squat position, but do not go so low that your upper legs are parallel to the floor.
  3. Hold for five to 10 seconds, then slowly return to the starting position.

Backward extension

  1. Stand with your hands on the small of your back.
  2. Slowly bend backward as far as comfortably possible.
  3. Hold for five to 10 seconds, then return to a neutral position.

Note: Don't overextend your neck.

Forward flexion

  1. Stand with your arms at your sides or crossed over your chest.
  2. Lean or bend forward, bringing your shoulders down toward your knees as far as comfortably possible.
  3. Hold for five to 10 seconds, then slowly return to the starting position.

Note: Keep your back flat, not rounded.

Image: © AlexRaths/Getty Images

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