stretching

…And so to stretch

 Why does stretching matter?

woman on sofa

I don’t know about you, but I’ve found myself spending more time this past month sitting at my desk or on the sofa in front of a screen, whether it’s meetings or social gatherings. The advice is that we should get up at least every 45 minutes and move – I wonder how many people actually do manage to do that? I’ve noticed how much more stiff some parts of my body feel since not climbing, riding my bike and moving around like I used to do.

So to counteract this, I have to remind myself to stretch more!

Our body design



Our body is designed to move, and sitting for hours on end everyday will take it’s toll on our health both physically and mentally. Regular stretching can help counteract the negative effects in the following ways.

It improves mobility and flexibility. Virtually every activity we do relies on ease of motion. Our habit of sitting in chairs causes muscle imbalances leading to rounded shoulders, tight hip flexors, weak hamstrings, stomach and backside muscles and locked up hips.

It also puts strain on the natural curve of the spine. I’m sure most of us have experienced that feeling of tightness in the lower back or found our shoulders scrunched up by our ears with our head poking forward like a chicken as we stare at the screen!

This increased tension all has a negative effect on the way we stand and move. In exercise, it’s often the problems caused by sitting that lead to injury, not the exercise itself! Stretching can help relieve back pain, improve ease of motion and counteract muscle imbalance. This in turn leads to improved performance and less likelihood of injury during daily activities and exercise.

…and as we get older

Stretching becomes even more important as we get older because our muscles and tendons lose their elasticity. In fact, I often advise people to spend time squatting or sitting on the floor as many people do in India and Africa as it is far more healthy for the hips! You can sit cross legged (put cushions under your knees to support them if needed and let gravity do it’s thing) or sit with your legs straight out in front with a cushion under your knees.

Try it for a bit while you watch TV or read a book.It improves circulation.

When we sit for a long time we tend to round our back and cave our chest, so squashing up our lungs and digestive system. Simply sitting or standing up and stretching the chest muscles enables us to increase the amount of air we can get into our lungs, which then increases the oxygen entering our bloodstream to feed our cells.

Help for your lymphatic system

Stretching also helps the lymphatic system to work. This system relies on muscle
contraction and breathing to push lymphatic fluid around the body.

Why is this important?

Well the lymph is responsible for removing waste products like excess fluid and old proteins and toxins from between our cells. It’s one of the reasons why we can feel tired and even slightly unwell from being inactive or sitting still. A sluggish lymphatic system lowers your immune strength too, something that at this time is crucial to keep up.

yoga

Practicing Yoga is great for the lymphatic system as it massages the organs and muscles which push the lymph around the body. Brisk walking with pumping arms is also good.

Stretching wakes you up. Taking a break with some stretching can improve your productivity. The movement increases blood flow to the brain and help you to refocus, especially if you practice the stretches as a moving meditation using your breath (see below). You can then return to your work with a calm and clear mind.

Stretching guidelines

Ideally you want to be warmed up. If you’re sitting working, I’d really recommend getting up and doing a couple of minutes marching with your arms and legs to get the blood circulating.

Of course if you’re stretching after exercise, your muscles will be warm. A note on exercise here, it’s preferable to do dynamic stretching such as leg and arm swings, lunges and squats beforehand.

Static stretching can increase the likelihood of injury.

  1. Stretch until you feel tension, not until you’re in agony. Be your own guide, everyone is different. If a stretch hurts you, back off or don’t do it.
  2. Think about the quality of your movement and your posture. It’s much better to do a few quality stretches than lots of half hearted ones.
  3. Pay attention to your breathing. Stretching can be a moving meditation – think Yoga. Breathe in through your nose (cleans the air better) and down into the sides of your lower lungs – imagine a pair of bellows expanding. Keep your belly relaxed. Focus on the parts of the body you are stretching. Breathe into them and think about them ‘letting go’.
  4. To make a difference you need to stretch regularly. At your desk try to do some stretches every hour and if possible get up and move. Stretch after exercising and if you’re not exercising, do a planned stretching session 3 times a week.

The Stretches

I’m all about getting the most ‘bang for your buck’ from with any stretch, or exercise for that matter! By this I mean that each one has multiple benefits. Here are several suggestions that target those parts of the body that get tight from a lot of sitting.

You don’t have to do them all every time you take a break, I suggest mixing them up so you’ve stretched all your muscles by the end of the day!

Hold each stretch for at least 10 seconds. If you’re doing them as a programme on their own, remember to warm up for 5 minutes first and hold each stretch for 30 seconds or so – allow your body to relax into the stretch.

Most people have a tendency to carry stress in their neck and upper back muscles. If you work long hours at a desk this is often exacerbated. The small repetitive movements from using a keyboard and mouse also cause tension and stiffness in the fingers and arms. The forearms are actually spending a lot of time in a twisted position and the shoulders can end up very rounded.

Cat to Cow

This is a great mobilisation stretch to do in the morning. It warms up the spine and gets the lymph moving. Kneel on floor with hands flat and arms straight, back flat in table top position. Legs hip distance apart, knees under hips, hands under shoulders.

Slowly arch back drawing tummy muscles up towards spine. Slowly reverse the move and arch your whole back, focusing on the upper back and drawing shoulder blades down and together.

Focus on your breath, in to arch up for cat and out, hollow your back for cow.

Back, Shoulder and Hamstring Stretch.

At home use the banister post. Grasp with both hands and lean back until arms are straight. Walk feet backwards and keep legs straight to increase stretch in back of legs.

You can also do this against a wall by placing palms flat on the wall, walking them down as you move your feet away until your body is bent 90 degrees at the hips, your hands are level with your shoulders and your back is straight.

Keep your stomach muscles engaged for this stretch. Hold.

Shoulder Stretch

This is a wonderful and very effective stretch from a yoga pose. Sit or stand. Hold arms up straight out in front at shoulder level, palms facing each other. Pull your shoulder blades towards each other to bring back your shoulders a bit. Cross your right arm over the left at the elbows. Raise forearms to upright and bring palms together. If you can’t bring palms together then push the back of your hands together. Keep elbows at shoulder height and forearms upright. Hold and repeat with left arm over right.

Forearm and Hand Stretch

Bring hands into prayer position in front of your chest. Push palms and fingers together and
downward to feel a stretch and hold. You can also do this with fingers pointing
downwards. Hold.

Wrist Stretch

To stretch in the opposite direction, standing place the back of your hands on a table,
straightening your arms. Keep your shoulders back away from your ears. Hold

Chest Stretch

Our chest and shoulders can get very rounded from lots of sitting and decrease the
capacity of our lungs. This in turn can leave us feeling tired and sluggish. Sit forward in
your chair with a long spine. Raise arms straight out to sides, inhale and exhale gently pressing hands backwards, squeezing shoulder blades together. An alternative is to clasp hands behind head and push elbows backwards.

Neck and Arm Stretch

Sit forward on your chair, long spine. Turn head 45 degrees to left, then look down, then tilt so ear is near the shoulder. Place right hand onto head and bend left arm and put behind back. Inhale and exhale pushing gently with hand on head and pulling other arm further around back. Hold, release and repeat and swop sides.

Standing Hip Flexor Stretch

Stand near your desk in case you need to hold for balance. Bend right leg backwards,
grasp foot with right hand, inhale and exhale bringing foot up towards backside and
pushing hips forward. Ensure you keep the lower back in neutral – don’t arch it. Hold,
release a little then repeat twice and change leg.

Hip Stretch

Here’s one to stretch your hips and your inner thighs. Sit towards the edge of your chair with straight back, put left ankle across right knee. Inhale and exhale as you press the knee of the bent leg downwards with your hands. Hold, release a few seconds, repeat twice more then swop legs. To increase the intensity of this stretch, as you’re pushing down with the hand, keeping your back straight, hinge forwards from the hips.

Seated Twist

Start as for hip stretch, left ankle across right knee and sitting tall. Curl right arm around left knee so hand is on the outside of the thigh. Draw knee toward chest, inhale lift out of lower spine, exhale and twist towards the left. Take the left arm around behind you onto the seat to add some traction to help increase the twist. You should feel a stretch through your glutes, hip and lower back. Hold and change to other side.

Back and Inner Legs

Sit on the edge of the chair with feet as wide apart as you can get them. Inhale, lift tall
out of your lower spine and as you exhale, hinge forwards from the hips, dropping your
body between your legs. Soften your back and hold your ankles or calves. Hold and
repeat.

And Finally….

So there you have it, some simple stretches that if practised regularly will relieve stiffness, improve your flexibility and keep you mobile. Plus they’ll increase your energy levels and immune health too.

Stretching is so good for you! For more ideas, simply search the Internet and if you’d like to know more please drop me a line at info@abovebeyondcoaching.co.uk

Fenella Hemus is an Associate at Discover Your Bounce delivering workshops on getting in to fitness. She also works with individuals and groups to help them find a sustainable balance of mental and physical fitness and wellness. She takes a whole mindbody approach and is a certified NLP, Hypnosis and TimeLine Therapy™ trainer/coach, Personal Trainer and nutrition coach. For more information visit www.abovebeyondcoaching.co.uk

 

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About The Author

Sharon Critchlow

Sharon Critchlow is a Wellbeing Advocate, speaker and facilitator at Discover Your Bounce for Business. Passionate about people being the best they can be she is a Time To Change Champion for mental health and holds a Masters level qualification in strategic coaching for performance. Sharon is a qualified accountant and has 20 years experience in senior leadership roles in the financial services sector. www.discoveryourbounce.com www.time-to-change.org.uk