It’s amazing how just a few minutes of stretching can change everything. Just moving around a little bit for a little while gets the blood flowing through your muscles and brain, makes you more flexible, reminds you to breathe, lifts your mood, and makes the various motions of daily life easier and less likely to strain something. And it doesn’t require any special equipment or gym fees.
Try it! Choose two favorite songs and play them on your music-playing device. (Hey, speaking of amazing: In many parts of the world these days, nearly everyone is able to access some music and some way of playing it at the slightest whim! Isn’t that cool? Don’t forget to feel grateful, while you are deciding which songs you want to hear.) It’s particularly effective to start with a slowish song and move on to a more lively one.
While your music is playing, stretch. You don’t have to follow a routine. Just move in various directions, pushing a little bit past where your muscles easily go but not far enough to hurt yourself. Move with the beat. Add some wiggles and dancey steps to shake things out. Gradually challenge yourself a little more, stretching farther and doing more difficult moves as you warm up. During the second song, you might move on to more strenuous exercises like sit-ups or jumping jacks…or not; if you’re not feeling up to that, just keep stretching a little farther.
When the songs are over, you’re done! Now you can get on with your busy life. Okay, it wasn’t as much exercise as you’d get by taking an aerobics class or bicycling to work or something–but you have time to do this, and on a busy day you might not get any other exercise. It’s an “at least I made the bed” kind of strategy.
I’m not going to give a lot of tips about how to stretch because I’m hardly an expert. I just have a few discoveries that are so important I have to mention them:
- One way to get started is an “isolation routine” like we used to do at the beginning of jazz dance class: Start with your neck; stretch just your neck in every direction. Now stretch just your shoulders. Then your arms, torso, hips, knees, ankles, feet. Starting from the top and working downward keeps you from forgetting any parts.
- Make sure to stretch your feet by bending your toes up. I’m astounded by how much this reduces aching and cramping in my feet when I (within 24 hours after stretching) spend a lot of time standing or walking. You can do this stretch by pulling your toes with your hands, by crouching (see how long you can balance that way), or by doing push-ups.
- You may think it’s too dangerous to exercise in sock feet on a hardwood or tile floor. I disagree. I walk around the house in socks all the time, ten months of the year, and it’s great for improving everyday balance–you learn to avoid slipping and to avoid falling when you do slip. When exercising, the option of sliding your feet comes in handy, and the need to anchor your feet when you don’t want them to slide improves consciousness of how you’re carrying your weight. I exercised in socks on hardwood almost daily in the last trimester of pregnancy–it was great!
For some reason, although I’ve known about the Seven-Minute Stretch for many years, I keep forgetting to do it. I have spells when I do, and then I have long spells when I grumble about feeling so crimped-up and awful and complain about how I don’t have time to get a massage or take a yoga class, completely forgetting that I might be able to help myself with some simple stretching. So, although of course I hope this article will be helpful to other people, I’m posting it mainly as a reminder to myself!
UPDATE: My 2010 new year’s resolution was to write “stretch” on my to-do list every single day. I found that when I saw it on the list as something I “had to” do, I stopped thinking of it as some sort of luxury thing I was doing “for myself” and instead thought of it as a responsibility. Among my various responsibilities, this one was easy–it takes such a short time–so I’ve been stretching about 9 days out of 10 ever since! It’s improved my energy level and reduced my tension-related headaches.