Most people, myself included, do not stretch enough, and it shows. Many of us have poor posture, stiff and aching joints, and are prone to injuries that could easily be prevented if we had better mobility.
Stretching is important for everybody, but the consequences of poor mobility show up more as we age. Our joints become stiff, we move slower, and simple tasks like getting in and out of a vehicle become more challenging.
While stretching can, and should be done anytime of the day, starting your day with a few mobility exercises is a great way to waken the body after a night of rest. The body tends to be stiffer in the morning, and gentle stretches are a great way to improve mobility first thing in the morning.
Personally, I’ve created a habit of doing 10 minutes of yoga when I get up, and I feel so much better! My flexibility has improved, and it’s even carried over to improve my running. Here are five gentle stretches to start your day. If you have back injury, or if the stretches cause any discomfort beyond the slight discomfort of your muscles tightening, stop the exercise and talk to your physiotherapist, chiropractor or kinesiologist.
• Knee to chest stretch. Lay on your back (and yes! You can do this in bed!) with knees bent or legs straight. Hug one knee toward your chest and hold for five seconds. Repeat on the other leg, then repeat 2-3 times on each leg.
• Knee rolling. Knee rolling is a gentle way to rotate the spine. Lay on your back with both knees bent. Gently lower both knees to the left. Engage your core and ‘roll’ your knees to the other side. Repeat five times. Other stretches to rotate the spine include standing trunk rotations and a seated spinal twist.
• Glute bridge. While the glute bridge can be classified as a strength exercise, it’s a fantastic way to open the front of the body (hips) and awaken the very important, but often underutilized, glute muscles. Lay on your back with knees bent. Engage your core, tighten your buttock muscles, and lift your hips up until our knees, hips and shoulders form a straight line. If you have any back tension or discomfort, lower the hips a few inches. Focus on squeezing your buttock muscles! Lower your hips back down, and repeat 10 times.
• Standing side stretch. Stand tall and lift both hands up overhead. Hold your right wrist with your left hand. Gently reach your arms to the left and press your rib cage to the right. You should feel the stretch on the right side of the body. Hold for 5-10 seconds and repeat 2-3 times on each side.
• Chest Openers. Stand tall with both arms straight out in front of you, palms facing inward. Open your arms to the side, as if you’re about to get someone a big hug. As you move your arms back, you should feel your upper back muscles activate, and a stretch in your chest or arm pit area. Keep your core muscles engaged to stabilize your spine as you complete the exercises. Hold for 2-3 seconds and repeat 5 times.
There you have it: 5 very simple exercises that you can do each morning. While reading this article is the first step, the next, and most important step, is to take action. Set a goal to complete the stretches daily (or as frequently as is realistic for you, though daily is best!) and enjoy a happier, more mobile body!
Tanja Shaw is a health and fitness coach, Rotarian, passionate entrepreneur, mom, runner, and owner of Ascend Fitness + Lifestyle, and host of the Ascend Lifestyle Performance Podcast. Learn more at www.ascendfitnesscoaching.com.