By Matt Evans published
Do us a quick favour, please: stand up, bend at the hips and try and touch your toes while keeping your legs as straight as you can. Can you do it?
If you can, that presumably means you've been doing your stretching exercises. Touching your toes displays lots of flexibility in your glutes, back, calves and hamstrings. It's a great yardstick to measure your mobility by. Yes, you can pick something off the floor, but if you're using one the best treadmill or best exercise bike in the gym or at home, your lower body has a greater range of motion, which means you're less likely to injure yourself.
You'll also likely be more active and healthy well into your twilight years, providing you keep up the stretching. As we get older, our muscles naturally shorten as we undergo a process called atrophy, limiting our muscles' range of motion. Imagine the shuffle of an elderly person, in comparison with the confident stride of a 40-year-old. Stretching is a process that lengthens the muscles, fighting against the process of aging.
In addition, stretching your legs can improve the blood flowing around your body and prevent strokes, according to this study at Harvard University. The researchers found that "arteries in the lower legs of the stretching group had better blood flow and less stiffness".
The stretching group also had lower blood pressure at the end of the study, and the effect also appears to influence arteries in the upper body.
The researchers theorised stretching causes muscles to press on the arteries in the muscles, which encourages your body to release chemicals that expand the arteries so more blood can enter. This improves the circulation and delivers more oxygen to your muscles, helping them to grow.
Not sure where to start? Yoga is a great way to improve your range of motion all over your body, including toe-touching. All you need is some comfortable clothes and one of the best yoga mats. This beginner-friendly routine from our YouTube channel is a great place to start:
Matt Evans is an experienced health and fitness journalist and Channel Editor at Fit&Well. He's previously written for titles like Men's Health and Red Bull, and covers all things exercise and nutrition on the Fit&Well website. Matt originally discovered exercise through martial arts: he holds a black belt in Karate and remains a keen kickboxer and runner. His top fitness tip? Stretch.
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