If you’re already feeling a little stiff, just wait—this is just the beginning. As you age, your joints only become stiffer, and usually that goes hand-in-hand with bodily aches and pains. And there’s typically one thing behind the problem: not being active enough.
“Stiffness often occurs when we’re not exercising enough, so the best way to prevent stiffness is by being regularly active,” says Katie Sun Worrall, DPT, physical therapist at Zion Physical Therapy. “There’s a lot of research that shows how sedentary behavior—aka sitting at work all day and not exercising—can lead to a number of health problems: obesity, heart disease, and high blood pressure, to name a few. Whether it’s walking, running, yoga, cycling, lifting weights, or another exercise of your choice, all of it is good for you and your health in the long run.”
To help you fight off stiffness in the future, you’ve gotta start now. Here are Worrall’s top exercises to combat stiffness—particularly the kind that occurs in the spine, neck, and back, as they’re some of the most common complaints.
A physical therapist’s top 5 exercises to fight stiffness as you age
Start on hands and knees in a neutral spine. Inhale, drop the belly, widen the collarbones, open the chest, and arch the spine. Make sure to keep the back of the neck long (often people crunch the back of the neck trying to look up in this posture). Then exhale, draw the belly in, round the spine, push the floor away, and drop the head. This simple exercise of rounding and arching your back will help to improve your spinal mobility and prevent stiffness that can come from sitting at a desk all day.
2. Upper trapezius neck stretch
Drop your right ear toward your right shoulder and place your right hand over your left ear. Gently apply a downward pressure with your hand until you feel a stretch on the left side of your neck. Make sure your left shoulder stays relaxed and dropped. Hold for 30 seconds and breathe. Repeat on the other side.
3. Levator scapulae stretch
Bring your nose toward your right armpit, and place your right hand on the back of your head with fingertips pointing toward your neck. Gently apply a downward pressure with your hand until you feel a stretch on the left side of your neck. Repeat on the other side. Hold for 30 seconds and breathe.
4. Side stretch
You can do this standing or sitting. Reach your right arm up overhead and begin to lean your trunk over toward the left on an upward diagonal until you feel a side stretch on your right. Try not to collapse in your left waist as you do this. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on the other side. This stretch will help to lengthen your waist and improve spinal mobility.
5. Trunk rotations
Lie on your back and drop your knees to one side, turn your head to the other. Repeat other side. This exercise is working to improve spinal mobility.
These are the trainer-approved stretches that quickly ease bloat. Also, make sure you’re staying stretched out in the car with these exercises you can do on the road.