We've got the trick to growing younger with each day: movement. Not the heart-pumping, sweaty kind, but easy, gentle, pleasurable motion guaranteed to take years off your life.
"One of the best things you can do for yourself as you age is to increase your body's range of motion through stretching," says Joseph Signorile, PhD, associate professor of exercise physiology at the University of Miami and senior researcher at Stein Gerontological Institute, also in Miami.
Stretching isn't just for when you exercise. Taking a few stretch breaks throughout the day offers tremendous benefits. Besides making it easier to reach a top shelf or bend to tie your shoes, it gives you more energy and helps you function better mentally.
Plus it's easy to do: The only equipment you need is you, it doesn't take much longer than a good yawn, and you can do it just about any time, anywhere. Big bonus: If you do it regularly, the next time you lie about your age, people just may believe you!
Look and Feel Younger
Starting in your 30s, your body's connective tissues—muscles, tendons, and ligaments—start to shorten and tighten, losing elasticity, says Marilyn Moffat, PT, PhD, past president of the American Physical Therapy Association and professor of physical therapy at New York University in New York City. Even more than aging, poor posture (such as slumping while you sit, stand, or walk) causes tightening and impedes bloodflow. Over time, this can create a buildup of calcifications (those hard knots most of us have in our upper back), not to mention a hunched, aged look and restricted movement.
But despite the damage you've done, and no matter how old you are, flexibility can be regained by stretching regularly—and improvement can be seen within weeks. When you stretch, you actually lengthen the muscles and tendons. This is what increasing flexibility means. When a muscle is flexible, it enables the joint to completely flex, extend, and move in multiple directions (known as range of motion)—whether it's to throw a baseball or turn a car's steering wheel.
Enhanced flexibility and movement range also affect your life in ways you don't realize. In one study, participants age 60 and older increased their everyday walking speed by simply stretching regularly—nothing else.
10 Commandments of Stretching
- Follow a program that is specific to your activities and needs.
- Stretch regularly, at least three times a week.
- Warm up before stretching.
- Stretch only to the point where you feel tension in the belly of the muscle, not pain in the joint.
- Hold each stretch for 15 to 60 seconds.
- Do each stretch 2 to 4 times.
- Stay relaxed.
- Breathe throughout the stretch.
- Progress in a slow, controlled manner.
- Don't bounce.