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Mind and body - Stretch to your limit

How flexible are you? Just stretch and see how you can twist and bend with ease
Touch your toes, twist your torso, bend over backwards… how flexible is your body? You might be surprised to know, that just like aerobic activity and strength training, stretching is an essential fitness requirement. Stretching prevents injury, enhances exercise performance and keeps you agile. So, whether you are sporty or sedentary, stretching is a non-negotiable component in a balanced fitness plan.
Who should stretch?
Stretching is good for all. It doesn't matter if you are an athlete, or you sit at a desk all day or do household chores; the benefits of stretching are enormous.
Is stretching a fitness component?
Yes. Stretching is an important component of a balanced fitness programme. The growing evidence of the many benefits of stretching prompted the American College of Sports Medicine to add recommendations for flexibility exercises to its guidelines for improving overall health.
Should athletes stretch?
Definitely. Sporting activities promote tightness and inflexibility. Stretching not only keeps you flexible, but also prevents common injuries. Some examples are back problems associated with soccer, sore shoulders or the tennis elbow associated with sports such as tennis, or knee problems associated with running or squash.
Can inflexibility cause back pain?
Poor flexibility of the low back and hamstrings are a major cause of lower back pain. Remember, a muscle in constant contraction requires more energy to accomplish activities. Stretching promotes spinal relaxation; resulting in release of muscular tension.
How does stretching improve posture?
Most postural problems are a result of poor alignment caused by tightness in the muscles. Stretching can help realign soft tissue structures and maintain good posture.
Stretching basics  
Stretching post-workouts is recommended, as this releases tension from the worked muscles.    
Stretch smoothly, never bounce.    
Breathe slowly, deeply and naturally.    
Remain relaxed and feel the stretch.
Stretching exercises
Hold each stretch for 10 to 20 seconds. Repeat each stretch twice.
Leg stretch
Lie on a mat or carpet. Extend the right leg up and place a bath towel around your right foot. Hold the ends of the towel and straighten your leg. Hold for 10 to 20 seconds and then switch legs.
Back of arm stretch
Extend right arm and bend the elbow, drop the hand behind your head. Hold the towel in your left hand and then bend the elbow behind your back. Hold the towel with your right palm. Hold for 10 to 20 seconds and then switch arms.
Neck stretch
Drop your head to the right side bringing your ear close to your shoulder. Hold for 10 to 20 seconds. Then return to the centre. Now, switch sides.
Upper back stretch
Clasp your hands in front of you so that you feel the stretch in your upper back. Lower your head during the stretch so that your chin is close to your chest. Hold for 10 to 20 seconds.
Shoulder stretch
Cross the right arm horizontally over your chest, placing your left hand or forearm just above the elbow joint, pull the right arm closer towards your chest. Hold for 10 to 20 seconds. Switch arms.
Chest stretch
With both your hands behind your back, clasp your hands behind your back and slowly lift your hands up till you feel a stretch in your pectorals. Hold for 10 to 20 seconds.
The writer is a certified Clinical Exercise Specialist, Lifestyle and Weight Management Specialist.

article published in the hindu newspaper "Mind and body - Stretch to your limit" by Namita Jain

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