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Stretching to Relieve Stress

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Most of us experience a good deal of stress in our daily lives. There just never seems to be enough time in the day. And that stress builds up without our realizing it, creating physical and mental stiffness. "Stretching is an effective strategy to aid in the relief of stress. It lengthens the muscles to relieve tension," says Jaime Longval, M.S., a certified strength and conditioning specialist at Brown University and The Miriam Hospital Centers for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine in Providence, RI.

Stretching can be done almost anywhere. Longval suggests these quick ways to relax your body and spirit:

Upper Back Stretch:

  • Stand with your knees slightly bent or sit up straight.
  • Clasp your hands in front of you, arms parallel to floor.
  • Keep your head relaxed.
  • Round your upper back. Push hands forward, palms away from body.
  • Hold for 20 to 30 seconds, breathing steadily. Repeat 2-5 times.

Neck Stretch:

  • Stand with your knees slightly bent or sit up straight.
  • Drop chin to your chest.
  • Place hands on back of head. Gently push down until you feel slight stretch.
  • Hold for 20 to 30 seconds, breathing steadily. Repeat 2-5 times.

Towel Stretch for Legs:

  • Dish or hand towels can help you stretch.
  • Lay on your back, abdominal muscles tightened, knees bent, feet on floor.
  • Extend one leg toward ceiling. Keep knee slightly bent.
  • Place towel behind back of leg or ankle (not behind knee), holding both ends.
  • Pull towel toward your chest until you feel stretch.
  • Hold for 20 to 30 seconds, breathing steadily. Repeat 2-5 times.