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USDA Exercise Guidelines

Stretching Properly

Stretching feels great -- especially if you've been in one position for any length of time. It comes naturally to us at those times. But structured stretching has special advantages. Stretching helps us to
  • reduce muscle tension

  • improve flexibility

  • increase range of movement

  • increase blood circulation a bit
Stretching is simple and easy to do -- and it can be done just about anywhere without any special equipment. Consider taking a five-minute stretch break for every two hours you spend sitting or driving. You'll feel refreshed with a stretching routine that goes from head to toe.

Exercise While You Sit
If you spend most of your time sitting down because of physical ailments, be active in your chair. There are books and videos for getting fit while you sit. Start with easy, low-intensity moves, and gradually progress to an entire aerobic workout in your chair. Nearly everyone can reap the rewards of physical activity.

Stretching Basics

To stretch properly and safely, stretch slowly through the muscle's range of motion just until resistance is felt -- the point at which you feel a slight pull. Stop and hold each stretch for 10 to 20 seconds without bouncing. Bouncing activates a muscle's stretch reflex, making it tighter and shorter. This may cause tiny tears in the muscle, resulting in injury and soreness.

During the stretch, keep breathing rhythmically and slowly; do not hold your breath. Repeat each stretch a couple times -- or more if you like.

Here are some stretches to get you started:
  • Neck. Tilt head down and side to side -- but always return to a center starting point before changing direction. Avoid tilting head to the back, as it may compress the cervical spine, and don't roll your neck around, as this may put too much pressure on the cervical spine.

  • Shoulders. Lift shoulders up toward ears, hold, and release; repeat. Next, make numerous forward circles with one shoulder, then the other. Repeat in opposite direction. Rolling shoulders forward and back several times in each direction will help relieve some of the stress of tight muscles around the upper back, neck, and shoulders.

  • Back of shoulder, upper back. Bring one arm across the front of your body and pull it close to your chest with the opposite hand.

  • Triceps. Place a hand at nape of neck, with the elbow pointing up. With the opposite hand, press the elbow toward the back. Repeat with the other arm.

  • Chest. Stand in a doorway and grasp each side of it. Lean forward slightly until you feel a good stretch in your chest muscles, then hold.

  • Front of thigh. Holding on to a chair or wall to stabilize yourself, lift right heel toward your buttocks. Grab it with your right hand and continue to pull your foot up until you feel a gentle stretch in your thigh. Try to remain upright and open at the front of the hip on the side you are stretching. Try not to overflex the knee. Hold. 

  • Back of thigh. Stand facing a step, one stride away. Place heel of one leg on step, keeping leg straight. With the opposite hand, reach toward the foot, bending forward from the hip, not the waist. You may bend the leg you're standing on.

  • Calf and achilles. Standing with the balls of the feet on a step, drop heels down, keeping legs straight. Repeat several times. For Achilles, bend the knee a little bit when the heel is still down.
Everyone knows we need to exercise, but few of us really get the amount of physical activity we need to stay healthy. In our last section, we will offer some strategies to make exercising a part of your life.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.