(BLAIR MOREAU - MERCY HEALTH PARTNERS) - The New Year is here. It has historically been a time for renewal, a time for looking at the past as well as looking forward to the up coming year. It is usually a time to reflect on changes we want to make and commit to those changes. One of the top resolutions our society makes annually is one of increased fitness. Becoming physically active is associated with many health benefits, from reducing disease process, maintaining weight to just feeling good about oneself. Did you know that we can achieve many of these benefits just by stretching our bodies on a regular basis? Stretching exercises are just as important to any fitness program as the activity being performed. The benefits of stretching are many and can be performed for all age groups and body types of people.
• Increased flexibility and joint range of motion
• Improved circulation
• Better posture
• Decreased stress
• Better balance
Here are four stretches to get your day started:
• Good Morning Stretch: This is an easy stretch to release that morning tension in your neck, shoulders, and back. Stand tall with your legs shoulder width apart and with arms straight in front of you, clasp your hands together in front of your chest. Inhale and bring your arms up over your head, positioning your clasped hands toward the ceiling, palms facing upward. Exhale and reach your hands to the left, feeling the stretch on the right side of your body. Inhale and come back to the center, then exhale and stretch your arms to the right. Slowly bring your arms to the starting position, in front of your chest. Repeat this stretch for five times.
• Neck and Shoulder Stretch: This stretch can be done sitting or standing. Begin by bending your neck forward; moving your chin toward your chest, you'll feel the stretch in the back of your neck. Move your head back to the center and bend your neck to the right side, bringing your right ear to the right shoulder. Hold until you feel the stretch on the left side of your neck (do not force the stretch). Repeat on the left side. Bring your head back to the center and repeat for five times.
• Cat Stretch: This is an awesome spine stretch. While sitting tall in a chair, place your palms on your thighs. Inhale, and arch your back, brining your chest forward while pointing your chin toward the ceiling. Hold for five seconds, then release to the starting position. Repeat five times.
• Forward Bend: Stretch your hamstring to get the blood flow to your legs. Performed in a standing position, place your hands on your hips, take your left foot forward and bend at the hips, keeping your back straight. Lower down until you feel the stretch in the back of the leg. Repeat with the right leg. Do each leg five times.
Experience the awesome benefits of stretching in your new fitness program.