Incorporate these four stretches into your cool-downs to keep participants looking and feeling younger.
People invest a lot of money in the search for eternal youth. But one of the most effective, inexpensive and pain-free ways to look and feel younger is to exercise and perform daily stretches that ward off kyphosis (rounding of the thoracic spine, resulting in a hunched shape); that keep the spine mobile; that lengthen the quadriceps to help sustain a tall, lifted posture; and that maintain a healthy range of motion in the hips.
Encourage participants to shift their focus from “anti-aging” to “pro-aging” with stretches that support an active body over a lifetime.
Sit on stability ball of appropriate size, feet planted on floor a little wider than hip width apart. Slowly roll down onto back while walking feet forward. (Participants who lack core strength may anchor their feet, toes touching wall.) Ball fully supports spine. Open arms straight out to sides, palms up. Allow back of head to rest on ball, and draw chin up slightly toward ceiling. Drop hips, allowing low back to round naturally against ball, or keep legs and glutes engaged to lightly lift hips. Inhale and exhale fully while holding the stretch, softening shoulder blades into ball.
Lie supine on mat and hug knees to chest. Next, take arms out to sides, palms up, shoulders anchored to mat. Slowly drop knees toward right side as head turns left. Release trunk rotators as legs sink toward floor. Actively press shoulders down; hold and breathe.
Extend both legs straight out to side to intensify this stretch, lengthening hamstrings as spine continues to twist gently. After 10–30 seconds, activate core muscles to return to start position. Return to neutral spine and then stretch to opposite side.
Position mat flush to flat, smooth wall. Carefully place right knee on floor against wall, shinbone perpendicular to floor, toes pointed. Bring left foot forward to create 90-degree bend in left knee, making sure knee stays behind toes, as if in lunge. Right shinbone is just outside of right thighbone as you press hands into left thigh and rise to tall, one-legged kneeling position. Use core muscles to draw rib cage back toward wall and up over hips. (This stretch is deep; participants who struggle should do standing quad stretch instead.) Breathe deeply and hold for 10–30 seconds; then switch sides.
This final stretch can prove challenging for people of all fitness levels. Sit cross-legged, then gently take right lower leg and try to pull right ankle/foot toward left knee. Breathe deeply and press right knee downward toward left ankle/foot. Activate inner and outer thighs to press both knees closer to mat. (Participants with tight hips can sit on step or yoga block. Those with mobile hips can reach forward and down with arms and chest.) Hold for 10–30 seconds, breathing fully, and gently switch sides.