Stretching - why it helps and how to do it

There's nothing nicer than the feeling of having a good stretch. But the benefits of stretching go beyond merely feeling pleasant. Stretching is good for you and should be part of your daily routine.

As you get older, your muscles tighten and the range of motion in your joints reduces. This puts you at risk of injury. If you twist to fetch something off the back seat of the car or reach for a glass on the top shelf, you might pull a muscle. Stretching will reduce your muscle tension and increase the range of motion in your joints.

Regular stretching will help if you do exercise, too. Because it increases your range of motion, your limbs and joints have further to move before they get to the point where they will become injured.

Stretching is great for your circulation - another thing that can become less efficient as you age. Circulation causes your blood to carry oxygen and nutrients to your organs and muscles, which is important for your body to function properly. Some people even believe that stretching helps reduce the symptoms of PMS.

If your work involves sitting at a desk for prolonged periods of time you can find both your upper and lower body becoming stiff, and regular stretching is essential.

Most people find it easiest to incorporate stretching into their day in between other tasks. If you tend to wake up in the morning with a stiff neck or back, it's good to stretch before you get on with the day. You can stretch while you're watching television or after you clean your teeth, and there are lots of apps available with simple stretching programmes you can do at your desk, with notifications to remind you during the day.

Here are eight simple stretches. Hold for as long as feels comfortable - 20 to 30 seconds is about right. Stop if you feel a sharp pain.

1. Neck stretch

Drop your neck into your chest and hold.

2. Shoulder roll

Roll both shoulders backwards in a circular motion. Repeat, rolling them forwards.

3. Chest stretch

Sit up straight and bring your arms and shoulders forward, clasping your hands together. Hold.

4. Side stretch

Sit or stand upright and reach your right arm above your head. Gently lean over to the other side and hold for 20-30 seconds. Repeat on the other side.

5. Flex feet

Extend your legs in front of you and flex your ankles, pointing your toes up. Hold.

6. Stand on toes

Simple - stand on your toes and hold.

7. Circle legs

Stand with your feet apart and shift the weight on to your right leg. Holding on to something for support, lift your left leg in front of you and slowly circle it. Repeat on the other side.

8. Squeeze buttocks

While sitting, squeeze your buttocks and hold. Great for doing at your desk!


Patricia Carswell is a freelance journalist and award-winning blogger specialising in health and fitness. She has written for the Daily Telegraph, the Guardian, the Observer, the Independent, Times Online, the Daily Mail, the Daily Express, Metro and a wide variety of national magazines and websites. She blogs at www.sportyoverforty.com  and www.girlontheriver.com and has a particular interest in fitness for the over-40s.