Stretches are a great way to start the day. Done regularly, they keep the body flexible and pain-free

Mathangi is in her 50s. She makes every effort to maintain her health. She is fit and spry and looks much younger than her years. She jump-starts her day by doing a set of stretches when she gets up in the morning. She finds that she is flexible and pain-free if she keeps up this routine.

Wake up your body with stretches

Why should you stretch in the morning? Simple stretches in the morning have benefits for both your body and mind. They give you an emotional boost because you have done something positive toward maintaining your body.

Waking up in the morning is not always the most pleasant thing! When accompanied by back discomfort and stiffness, hip or leg pain or just general aches, it becomes even more unpleasant. Sleeping at night causes your muscles to stiffen. The stress of the previous day may also cause some of your muscles to tighten. It is not unusual to wake up in the morning with a stiff neck and shoulders or with a mild low back pain.

Getting our muscles and joints loosened up and limber, without placing a lot of stress on them, is important. Early-morning stretches also realign your spinal column and improve your posture. They are a great way to increase blood flow throughout your body.

Principles of stretching

* Timing of each stretch

A 10-15 second stretch is effective. Start the stretch, feel it in the muscle group that you are stretching and hold it for 10 seconds. Take a deep breath and intensify the stretch and hold it for 5-10 more seconds. Then exhale gently. The stretch should be comfortable and should stop short of pain.

* Muscle groups to stretch

Focus on stretching the major muscle groups in your legs, gluteals, lower and upper back. Neck stretches and shoulder rotations will help loosen the tension in your neck and shoulders.

Stretches to do while lying down (even before you get out of bed!)

1. Trunk rotation: Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet on the bed. Roll the knees side to side as far as possible while keeping the knees together. Repeat this 10 times on each side.

Benefit: it will get the kinks out of your back muscles.

2. Single knee to chest: Pull one knee toward your chest and hold for about 20 seconds. Keep the other leg straight or bent slightly. Repeat for the opposite side and do each side 3 times.

Benefit: this exercise stretches your gluteal (buttock) muscles and the back of your thighs.

3. Lower back: Lying on your back, slowly bring the right knee up and across over the straightened left leg. Hold the right knee with your left hand and press gently toward the ground until you feel a stretch in the muscles on the side of the body, your thighs and your lower back. To increase the stretch, hold the free arm at right angles to the body and rotate your neck towards the same side. Hold the stretch for 15 seconds, and then repeat on the opposite leg.

4. Back and hip joints: Lie on your back with your legs straight. Place the ankle of your right leg over your left knee. Grab the right foot just above the toes and gently pull the foot upwards while pushing your knee towards the ground. Hold the stretch for 10-15 seconds. Switch legs and repeat on your left leg.

Benefit: it will stretch the thigh muscles and keep the hip joints flexible.

Stretches to do while sitting on the side of the bed

1. Neck: Sit on the edge of your bed with your feet on the floor. Rotate your neck in a circle, touching your ears to your shoulder. Rotate clockwise slowly for 5 seconds, then rotate counterclockwise slowly for another 5 seconds.

Benefits: loosens the stiffness in your neck.

2. Shoulders: Bring the right arm across your chest while using your left palm to pull it towards your chest. After 15 seconds of stretching your first shoulder, switch arms.

Benefits: loosens your shoulder muscles.

Stretches to do while standing by the side of the bed

1. Upper back, arms and rib cage: Lace your fingers together in front of you and slowly raise them over your head with palms facing the ceiling, stretching your rib cage. Take a deep breath as your arms go up and exhale when you bring your arms down.

2. Back and legs: As you remain standing at the side of the bed, take your fingers and reach down to your toes as much as you can while keeping your knees straight. Hold for 10-15 seconds.

Benefits: stretches the back of your thighs and flexes the lower back.

3. Front of thighs: Stand on one leg and pull the heel of your other leg towards your bottom until you feel slight tension in the muscles in the front of your thigh. Hold on to something so that you don't lose balance. After 15 seconds, repeat with the opposite leg.

Benefits: loosens the area in front of the thighs, the largest muscle in the body.

You can experiment with more stretches and use the ones that stretch the muscles that are causing you the most discomfort.

The author is an obstetrician and gynaecologist practising in Chennai and has written the book 'Passport to a Healthy Pregnancy'.

www.passport2health.in

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MetroplusJune 28, 2012