They say you are ‘only as young as your spine is flexible’. Stretching before and after exercise is vital not just for your spine but for all the muscles you use during sport or a workout. There are a number of benefits associated with stretching, including toning and improved posture. Stretching is one of the most important things you can do to maintain and increase flexibility, strength and for overall body wellness. So it doesn’t make sense to put your body through a rigorous workout and not follow up with a stretch routine.
Stretch like a cat when it wakes up
Not only is it important to make stretching part of your pre and post exercise routine but if you make stretching a habit, especially in the mornings after the body has been at rest for a long period, you will eliminate aches and pains in the muscles and joints. Morning stiffness and pain often occur because there is an increase of fluid in the joints and spinal discs overnight while your body lies horizontal. For the best ‘get up and go’ feeling you actually need to pause and spend about 10 minutes to gently stretch and warm up the body to alleviate joint discomfort and increase blood flow.
Bonitas Medical Fund believes that one of the cornerstones of healthy living is taking control of and managing your health. A simple, effective way to improve cardiovascular function, reduce back pain, ease osteoarthritis, increase flexibility and prevent tendinitis and carpal tunnel syndrome is to stretch. Simply start each day with a quick and easy routine.
Back, neck and shoulders
Musculoskeletal disorders – mainly lower back pain followed by pain in the neck and shoulder – are among the most prevalent long-term illnesses and account for more pain and absenteeism from work than any other medical condition. The Journal of the American Association and Harvard University, believe an alternative effective treatment for chronic pain, besides painkillers, is movement, including stretching the muscles and physiotherapy. Bonitas Medical Fund agrees with this philosophy which is why the Scheme works alongside the successful international Documentation Based Care (DBC) to offer a back and neck rehabilitation managed care programme that incorporates the best protocols to improve functional ability with the minimum amount of pain. Bonitas covers the full cost of the programme which helps prevent unnecessary surgery and empower members to take control of their health.
If your back goes out more than you do
Unfortunately a decline in flexibility, stability and balance comes with the aging process but by getting stiff muscles to stretch and move properly again you can prevent injury and strengthen your muscles which will also help slow down the rate of bone and muscle loss.
People who sit in front of a computer for extended periods develop poor posture as a result of overstretched back muscles and tight chest muscles. By introducing stretching either in the morning or during the day can open these muscles and be effective in loosening them up.
Muscles work in pairs, while the one flexes the other relaxes. When you lift something you use the bicep muscle – which runs from the inside of your elbow to the shoulder – it contracts to raise up your hand whereas the muscle at the back of your arm, the tricep, relaxes and lengthens. Flexing the opposite muscle in a stretch gives you a better result, for example, when stretching your lower back, flex your abs.
Here are seven easy stretches to do at home. Remember stretching should not be painful, it might be slightly uncomfortable if you’re working a stiff joint but if pain persists it could signal something more serious which might mean seeing a doctor.
Raise your arms towards the sky to get the blood flowing and wake up the body. Lace your fingers together and raise your hands above your head, palms facing upward. Elongate your spine and feel the stretch in your ribcage and arms. Hold for a count of 10, and then incorporate a sitting side stretch to target your torso.
Neck and shoulder stretch
By stretching your neck and shoulders in the morning you can ease tension that can happen while sleeping. To stretch the muscles on the right side of your neck, turn your left ear over to your left shoulder and hold for 20 seconds. Repeat on the other side to stretch out your left side. Relax for a moment and then roll your shoulders to the back, and then to the front. Then lift them up to your ears, tensing the muscles, and allow them to drop completely. Repeat this entire sequence three times.
A spinal twist is the ideal way to relieve stress in your lower back. Sitting on a chair or the edge of your bed with legs together, rotate your spine from the waist, placing one hand behind you and the other hand on your outer thigh for support. For a deeper stretch for the neck, turn your gaze to look over your shoulder as well. Hold 2-3 deep breaths. Repeat other side.
Stand on one leg with your knees touching. Grab your left foot with your left hand and pull toward your butt. Do your best to keep your chest upright and tilt your hips forward for a more effective stretch. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds, then stretch the other leg. Since quads are one of the most overworked muscles in the body, make sure to stretch them every day.
Upper back release
Stand with feet hip-distance apart, clasp hands in front of you and round your upper back keeping arms straight. Think about the shoulder blades spreading wide across your back. Hold this stretch for 2-3 deep breaths.
Shoulder and chest release
Holding a wall, door frame or window ledge with your left arm, step forward with your left leg and turn your body to the right especially at the hips. Hold this stretch for 4-6 deep breaths. Repeat on the other side. It also stretches the bicep.
Stand with feet hip-distance apart and knees slightly bent, bend forward at the hips. Allow your upper body to hang over your legs and clasp elbows. (Don’t hang from your elbows if you have any lower back issues. Instead, place hands on floor or legs for support.) Hold for 2-3 deep breaths while you gently shake your head no and even more gently nod your head yes. To come up, pull in abs and gently round up one vertebra at a time.
To recap, stretching has many benefits, which include the following:
- improving flexibility around a joint (Range of Motion)
- improves circulation which increases blood flow to muscles and joints.
- Helps with posture correction
- Improves balance and coordination which prevents the risk of falling and risk of injuring one- self
- Helps muscles that are tense up to relax and so assist with stress relief
- All the above-mentioned assists people with being able to perform ADLs much better and more efficiently.
So, don’t just get up and go every morning. Take a few deep breaths and greet the day with a few good stretches – you body and mind will thank you for it.