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Stretching for anti-aging: It's what you do and how you do it

Nov 9, 2011, 3:41 p.m.

When most of us think "anti-aging," we think of the moisturizer counter or antioxidant-rich foods. But there's a powerful anti-aging weapon most of us are missing out on: Stretching. No, I'm not talking about advanced yoga contortions or positions befitting a Cirque du Soleil performer. I'm talking about common-sense, everyday stretches; the ones that anyone can do and that only take a few minutes at a time, and can keep your body fit and flexible well into your 90s and beyond!

For example, take the low back and knees. When these areas of our body are compromised, our movements suffer, which accelerates the aging process. By adding just a few daily stretches for the back, legs and hips, you can protect these areas from harm, and by extension, preserve your active lifestyle. Ever see a news story of an 80-year-old crossing the finish line at a marathon? Impressive, but what you don't see is what the person is doing behind the scenes: Stretching regularly as part of his or her training program.

But that's just half the equation. The other half is in observing good technique. This means making sure you warm up first, and slowing down to hold each stretch until the muscle relaxes. It means taking deep breaths, and working within your comfort zone. Above all else, it means staying consistent.

With that in mind, the following are three great stretches that will help protect your body from age-related deterioration. Remember to check with your physician before tackling them, to ensure it's safe for you to stretch:

Elbow Cobra: This stretch elongates the low back, counteracting the effects of sitting and standing with a slouched posture. Lie down on your stomach and prop up your chest on your elbows. Your elbows should be aligned underneath your shoulders. Keep your neck neutral, your focus straight ahead. Take deep breaths and concentrate on relaxing your low back. Hold for 30 seconds.

Chair hip/glute stretch: This stretch releases tightness from your hips, which in turn takes stress off of your low back and knees. Sitting in a chair, cross your left ankle just above your right knee, so that your left knee is pointing toward the left. Your right heel should be on the floor, directly under your right knee. Rest your left hand on your left knee, and extend your right arm forward. Slowly, lean forward, as though you're trying to reach for an object in front of you with your right hand. As you hold the stretch, be sure to relax your neck and shoulders, as these muscles often rise and tense up in response to this stretch. Hold for about 30 seconds, then release and do the same stretch for the right leg.

Doorframe chest stretch: Much of the wear and tear on our neck and back comes from the excess tightness of our chest and front shoulder muscles. To instantly release these muscles, walk over to a doorframe, and place your right hand on it, so that your thumb is pointing upward and your palm is facing the same direction as your chest. Adjust your position so that your arm is fully extended, and your hand is at the height of your shoulder. Now, slowly turn your feet and chest to the left, rotating around until you feel the stretch in the right side of your chest. Hold, take deep breaths, and focus on relaxing your whole upper body with each exhale. After 30 seconds, release and stretch your left side the same way.

Follow these guidelines, and you'll age-proof your body better than any "miracle in a bottle" ever could!

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