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Which Stretches Are Most Beneficial Before Going on a Walk?

Which Stretches Are Most Beneficial Before Going on a Walk?

Try this simple, three-minute stretching routine before you walk for exercise.

Photo Credit: Rob, via Flickr Creative Commons

Do you stretch before you walk? Do you know how to breathe properly when stretching? Did you know your stretches should be customized for your body? Ben Brown, MD, from Ornish Lifestyle Medicine, walks you through these and other interesting facts about stretching.

Most of the data about stretching and exercise is from studies on performance athletes: runners, competitive sport participants, and military recruits. These people are clearly challenging themselves more than your average walker.

If you pool the data from these studies, they show little to no benefit to stretching before moving. Most show mild benefit to starting exercise slowly. Many show modest benefit to stretching afterward.

Here is where science meets common sense. The science is not convincing one way or the other. If you like to stretch before working out, keep doing it. If stretching isn’t your thing, then don’t do it; but if you were to choose a specific time to stretch, after your walk is likely a little better.

Your thigh, calf, and hip muscles are the most important to stretch.  It also helps to have strong stomach muscles to help support your lower back.

3-Minute Stretch 
So, here is a powerful 3- to 5-minute stretching routine for walkers.

Standing
QUADS: These are the big muscles in the front of your leg. Bend your knee and reach to grab your ankle. Hold it and take three deep breaths. Then do the other side.

HAMSTRINGS: Forward bend at the waist and let your torso hang, if you need to, you can bend your knees slightly. Hold that stance and take three deep breaths. This is the simplest way to stretch your hamstrings. 

CALVES: Place your hands against a wall with your feet spread hip distance apart. Step one leg back and bend the front knee. Reach the heel of the back leg down to stretch the calf.  Hold it and take three deep breaths. Then switch sides. 

Sitting
PIRIFORMIS: Sit with the ankle of one foot over the knee of the other and bend forward leading with the chest. You should feel the stretch in the outer part of your thigh/buttocks. Hold and take three deep breaths, then switch sides.

LOW BACK TWIST: Sit comfortably with both feet on the ground and your knees bent. Reach your right arm to the outside of your left knee and twist to the left, keeping your head and chest up. Hold and take three deep breaths, then switch sides. 

LYING: While lying on the ground with your knees bent and hands on the space below your belly button, lift your shoulders off the ground and tighten the muscles under your fingers. Just come up enough to get your shoulders and mid-back off the ground. Then relax and lower slowly. Do as many of these as you can until you are tired.

LEGS UP ON THE WALL; This may feel incredibly relaxing to you and it helps bring the blood that may be pooling in the legs back into the circulation. 

General Stretching Guidelines
When doing any kind of stretching, your breath is your best friend. Exhale when you are going into a stretch and breathe deeply while you hold a stretch. Hold each stretch for three deep breaths. Do not strain or bounce. When your stretch just barely begins to cause pain, breathe. Do not do any stretch that is painful.

Customizing Your Stretch 
Is one side of your body tighter than the other? If so start your stretching routine with the side that is tight and finish with that same side (so you get an extra stretch in on that side).

Is a muscle group tighter than another? If it is a group of muscles (like your hamstrings), then start your routine with the hamstrings and finish your routine with the hamstrings.

As you get to know your body you can add or subtract movements as you like.

If you like to stretch before exercise, don’t stop. If stretching isn’t in your plan, then just start slow and build up speed as you go, but follow up your waling by stretching afterward. Use this simple routine to help you keep walking happily ever after.

Looking for other ways to live a healthier, happier life? Reverse heart disease and diabetes, lose weight and reduce your cancer risk with these tips from Dean Ornish.

This content was originally published on Ornish Living.

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