Feeling tired, slow, and sluggish? People often don’t feel their best when they are not getting enough physical activity. But how much is enough? Experts say, for most of us, at least 150 minutes of physical activity every week promotes health and well-being. For the best results, aim for a combination of aerobic, muscle-strengthening, and flexibility activities each week.
Ideally, we need 150 minutes of aerobic activities weekly. Aerobic activities increase your breathing and heart rate and improve heart and lung fitness. Jogging, brisk walking, biking, and swimming are examples.
Muscle-strengthening activities build and maintain both muscles and bones. Lifting weights, using a resistance band, or doing weight-bearing activities such as push-ups, squats, or yoga are all examples. Aim to do these twice weekly, in addition to your aerobic activity.
Flexibility activities help joints to move through their full range of motion. You should enjoy stretching exercises such as yoga and Tai Chi two to three times weekly.
Source: Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Spend Smart. Eat Smart., spendsmart.extension.iastate.edu/physical-activity/.
While watching your favorite teams compete in March Madness, take a time out during commercial breaks to stretch. Flexibility is an overlooked component of exercise that improves your range of motion, which increases your ability to engage in all different types of physical activity. You do not need to go to yoga to improve your flexibility. The most recent physical activity recommendations suggest stretching as an easy and effective means to increase flexibility.
Follow these simple stretching tips to minimize injury and maximize flexibility benefits:
- Relax by taking a few deep breaths during stretches.
- Make smooth/slow movements instead of jerky/quick motions.
- Stretch until feeling a gentle pull; if you feel any sharp pain or discomfort, you have stretched too far.
- Hold stretches for a total of 15–30 seconds.
To get started, try these simple stretches as you wait for the basketball games to resume:
- Forward Bend—When sitting/standing, reach your hands toward your toes. Hold for 15–30 seconds.
- Wall Push—Stand 12–18 inches away from a wall; lean forward, pushing against the wall with your hands and keeping heels flat on the floor. Hold for 15 seconds; repeat 1–2 times.
- Hip Flexor Stretch—With both knees on the floor, bring one leg forward placing your foot flat on the floor and your knee at a 90-degree angle. Push your hips forward until you feel a stretch in your front thigh, near the groin. Keep your torso upright and front knee behind your toes. Hold for 20-30 seconds on each leg.
Sources: American Heart Association, Stretches for exercise and flexibility; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Active adults. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans
Flexibility helps prevent injuries and improve simple motions of everyday life. Being flexible allows for better movement and reduced pain in joints making it easier to perform daily activities. It is important to warm your muscles before stretching. Also, remember to stretch after the cool-down portion of each workout.
- Do not bounce into a stretch or during a stretch. Movements should be slow and steady.
- Mild discomfort while stretching is normal but you should never feel pain. If you do, it means you are stretching too far and you need to reduce the stretch so it does not hurt.
- Always breathe through the stretch, never hold your breath.
- Avoid locking your joints in place during stretches.
- Hold each stretch for 15–30 seconds. Repeat each stretch 2– 4 times, trying to extend farther each time.
Here are two stretches to get you started…
Hamstring Stretch – Hold on to the back of a chair or countertop and bend forward at the hips, keeping your back and shoulders straight and your knees together. You should feel a stretch in the back of your thighs.
Triceps Stretch – Lift your arm straight up in the air and bend at the elbow. Gently press the elbow back with the opposite hand. Lift your head and look straight ahead. You should feel a stretch in the back part of the upper arm. Repeat with the other arm.