Featured Article: Increase Your Flexibility and Improve Your Life
by Sharon Tanenbaum
Photo by Robert Maxwell from Real Simple.com
The simple act of stretching does a lot more than make you limber. It may help prevent injuries or even illness—all it takes is 10 easy minutes a day.
In fact, flexibility can help your body reach its optimum fitness level, may play a role in injury prevention, and can even contribute to staving off conditions like arthritis and more serious illnesses.
Here’s How It Works
When you stretch a muscle, you lengthen the tendons, or muscle fibers, that attach it to the bone. “The longer these fibers are, the more you can increase the muscle in size when you do your strength training,” says Geier. That means that a more flexible muscle has the potential to become a stronger muscle, too. In turn, building strong muscle fibers may boost your metabolism and your fitness level. Flexible muscles also make everyday activities easier on your body and may decrease your risk of certain injuries. Common behaviors, like hunching over the computer, can shorten some muscles. That, along with the natural loss of muscle elasticity that occurs with aging, can set you up so any quick or awkward motion (lunging to catch a glass before it teeters off the table, for example) could stretch your muscles beyond their limit, resulting in a strain or a tear. “Even if you’re aerobically fit, it helps to be limber, too, so your body can easily adapt to physical stressors,” says Margot Miller, a physical therapist in Duluth, Minnesota, and a spokesperson for the American Physical Therapy Association.
What’s more, stretching may improve your circulation, increasing blood flow to your muscles. And having good circulation can help protect you against a host of illnesses, from diabetes to kidney disease. Greater flexibility has even been linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.
How to Get—and Stay—Flexible
To increase your flexibility, start with about 10 minutes of stretching a day, focusing on the major muscle groups: upper body (arms, shoulders, neck), back, and lower body (thighs, calves, ankles). (See The Ultimate Daily Stretch on the next page.) Then, depending on how you typically spend your time, focus on specific stretches for problem-prone areas. So if you’re pretty much parked at a desk from nine to five, you’ll want to give extra attention to your lower back and shoulders. If you’re on the move—picking up toddlers and bags of groceries, perhaps—concentrate on your hamstrings and arms.
Of course, you may find that stretching becomes one of your favorite parts of the day. Since you need to focus on even, deep breathing while listening to your body, stretching is a great relaxation or even meditation break.
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And check out this awesome video tutorial:
How to Stretch at Work Video