If there's one tip to staying active as you get older, it's to stretch. Many people simply don't take the time to stretch for even a few minutes every day, which is a shame: if we go from an office chair to our car to our sofa, our range of motion decreases and we'll suffer in our old age. But stretching can help us to lose belly fat and turn the clock back.
Even if you're already an active, healthy adult or dedicated gym bunny, a daily stretching routine can increase your range of motion, reduce your risk of injuries and decrease soreness in your muscles. Our guide to stretching exercises is a good place to get started, but there's one very simple – but not necessarily easy – thing you can do right now. Try touching your toes.
At least, that's the recommendation from Hollywood superstar Helen Mirren. From turns in The Queen to action franchises like Red and Fast & Furious, It's well-known Helen has long made use of the XBX workout plan, a series of 12 simple calisthenics exercises created by the Canadian Air Force, in order to get fit in preparation for her roles, and it's a practice she still uses.
In an interview with Good Morning Britain, Helen speaks out about her regime and the flexibility it provides:
Interviewer: Is it true that you keep fit with the RCAF exercises?
HM: I do, that’s true, not that I keep fit. But if I do decide “It’s time, you’ve got to start again” I do those. It’s very simple - five days a week, for two weeks, and you feel very different. The first exercise is touching your toes, which is very easy - no, not bending your knees, keep your knees straight. You should be able to place your hands flat on the ground. Five times a day, start with that.
And then, of course, Helen proceeds to show off great flexibility for any age, never mind 73, and place her palms flat on the floor with two straight legs. Check it out below:
Watch Helen Mirren demonstrate great flexibility here:
Mirren's great flexibility is testament to the effectiveness of her workout plan. As we get older, our muscles shorten, limiting our range of motion. We've all seem elderly people shuffle along with very limited motion, bent double. Regular stretching helps keep those muscles long, actively fighting against the process of aging. It also reduces acute inflammation in our bodies according to science, helping us live longer.
Mirren recommends touching your toes (or getting as far down as you can) five times a day, eventually working your way to placing your palms flat on the floor. However, if you're looking for more structured flexibility exercises, yoga is great for anyone looking to get into stretching.
Combining core exercise, stretching and meditation, it's perfect for reducing the production of a hormone called cortisol. Known as the "stress hormone", cortisol induces feelings of fight-or-flight panic in addition to encouraging our bodies to cling onto fat. Yoga not only lengthens our muscles, but regular yoga practice reduces the production of cortisol as effectively as anti-depressant drugs, according to studies.
All you need is a set of comfortable clothes, including some of the best workout leggings if you're feeling trendy) and yoga mats to get started. Not only will you be able to touch your toes at 75, you'll also feel happier in general. You can also find more detail on Helen Mirren's XBX workout here.
How stretching can help seniors lose belly fat
Maintaining your range of motion is hugely beneficial, especially as we age. A 65-year-old who is still able to move in the same way as they could ten years ago is likely to be able to do much more exercise than someone of the same age with a much more limited range of motion. This means the person who stretches is likely to burn more calories in the long term.
In addition, stretching by itself has been found to reduce belly fat in older adults. A study published in the scientific journal Frontiers in Physiology found that a wand-based stretching exercise routine – holding a stick or broom handle and performing a series of stretches – decreased abdominal obesity in participants over 55 years of age.
Not only did waist circumference "significantly" reduce in participants after 15 weeks of stretching, but other cardiovascular risk factors also fell. This could be because of stretching's beneficial effect on heart health: by encouraging blood to flow into your muscles you're improving the circulation in your body, reducing the risk of high blood pressure buildup.
It's not quite a replacement for walking, running, cycling, golf or other beneficial cardio exercises, but it's a great place to start. You'll soon find with an improved range of motion and healthier muscles and heart, you'll be able to walk farther, exercise better, lose belly fat and live longer.
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Matt Evans is an experienced health and fitness journalist and is currently Fitness and Wellbeing Editor at TechRadar, covering all things exercise and nutrition on Fit&Well's tech-focused sister site. Matt originally discovered exercise through martial arts: he holds a black belt in Karate and remains a keen runner, gym-goer, and infrequent yogi. His top fitness tip? Stretch.
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