Six Stretches to Liven Up Your Morning Routine

An incredible good morning stretch makes my list of all-time top-ten best feelings. While the old-fashioned arms to the sky pose is a classic, of course, sometimes you just want to switch it up. When the urge for something new arises, wake up your senses with one of my x favorite morning stretches.

Child's pose

You can do this yoga resting pose on the floor with a blanket or mat. Start on your hands and knees, with knees aligned with your hips and big toes together. Lengthen your spine as you inhale, then tuck your chin to your chest as you rest your rear on your heels and exhale. Stretch your arms overhead, palms flat on the ground, and rest your forehead on the floor. Hold for five deep breaths to beat early morning fatigue and soothe any stiffness that's cropped up overnight.

Cat and cow pose

More of a flow than a stretch, cat and cow works wonders for the spine. Start on all fours on your mat or blanket with hands directly under your shoulders. As you breathe in, drop your torso down and lift your gaze to the sky. Raise your tailbone as you gently press your stomach toward the floor.

On the exhale, bring the belly back up and drop the chin. Round the back (think of a Halloween cat) as you tuck in your "tail." Do several reps at the pace of your own breath for a quick asana to get your day rolling.

Knees to chest 

Next, flip over on your back and pull your knees toward your chest, exerting only gentle pressure. Hold for about 30 seconds and do three reps for a stretch that can alleviate bloating and back pain. In other words, you need this stretch when you have PMS.

Neck stretches

This stretch is especially important if you spend a lot of time looking at a screen or working at a computer. Over time, the muscles in the neck and shoulders become tight and tense, especially if you tend to hold stress in those areas. Sit up straight on a chair or your bed, then place your hand on top of your head and carefully press your ear toward your shoulder. Stop right away if you feel pain or discomfort. Hold for 10 seconds, then repeat for 10 reps on both sides.

Standing quad stretch

Ready to get moving? You don't have to have a run planned to stretch out your quads. Stand up and place your right hand on a solid object for balance. Bend your left knee with your heel toward your rear, then grasp your left ankle firmly with your left hand. Feel the delicious stretching sensation as you hold for about 30 seconds with three reps on each side.

Toe touch

Also known as a standing forward bend, this stretch has a spot in your regimen long past middle school gym class. It helps your internal organs work efficiently while reducing feelings of stress and anxiety.

Start this stretch in mountain pose, a yoga position in which you stand up straight with hands at your sides, palms facing out. As you inhale, sweep your hands out and up, then draw them together over your head. Try to keep the length in your spine as you fold your body in half at the hips, hands on your legs or on the floor. Hold the stretch for five deep breaths.

You'll feel alert and energized with these stretches, but that's not their only benefit. Over time, a regular stretching routine can reduce stress and improve mobility and flexibility. Best of all, these stretches put you in the right mindset to make the most of your day.

Giving New Definition To the Term Slacker: 4 Reasons To Try Slacklining

A long piece of webbing stretches the span between two trees in a local park, and a young woman balances on the inches-wide material a couple of feet off the ground. The line bends slightly under her weight as she moves forward and back, at one point appearing still on a single foot. It is incredible, astonishing; it is slacklining.

Despite the reduced risk of injury, with the slackline only two to three feet off the ground, spectators cannot be 

blamed for assuming the girl is a tightrope walker. While the activities are similar, slacklining is more approachable for novices and provides tremendous benefits.

Unfortunately, too many people cannot get past their nerves to try the activity. While there are risks involved with learning, you can mitigate those risks with proper planning. Using padded mats and lowering the line to a comfortable height, injuries become unlikely.

If you have ever wanted to try slacklining, what is holding you back? While it will take time to build confidence and become proficient, the benefits of the exercise make it worth the dedication.

1. Improves Balance

One of the crucial components of health and longevity is balance. People too often settle into a life of desk jobs and limited movement, resulting in worsening balance as they age. Poor balance can be a death sentence for seniors — 21% of people over 60 die within one year of a hip fracture.

Slacklining is a balancing and core strength exercise. Not only will participating in the activity result in better balance, but it will also result in improved posture and strength, enhanced athletic performance, and reduced impacts of arthritis.

2. Benefits the Brain

Many people are freaked out the minute they step on a slackline because it usually starts shaking. They immediately think they are going to fall, and many will. The key to slacklining is concentration and focus. Sure, balance has a lot to do with it, but without concentration and focus, you will fall every time. 

The best part about continued slackline practice is improving your focus and concentration. The brain is like a muscle, and the more you force it to focus on an intense or strenuous activity, the better it gets. In fact, a study published in Hippocampus Magazine in August of 2011 found a direct correlation between slacklining and enhancements in the memory and learning centers of the brain.

3. Promotes Muscle Gains

As slacklining is an exercise and activity, it will lead to muscle gains. The most gains are realized in the core and lower body, which are muscle groups directly associated with balance. The benefits of slacklining are often equivalent or greater than more traditional core and lower body workouts, such as squats and sit-ups.

Many practitioners express tremendous athletic gains because slacklining focuses on the core, gluteals, and quads. Think about it, every sport requires some level of balance, and slacklining is the best balancing exercise.

4. Improves Self-Esteem and Confidence

Slacklining is more than an exercise; it is potentially a life-changing experience. The amount of focus and dedication required to become proficient with the activity can often alter one's outlook.

Challenging yourself and exceeding your expectations or even meeting them is a tremendous confidence boost. Many people find that commitment and improvement on the slackline directly correlate to feelings of self-esteem and confidence.

What's your take on slacklining? Do you think you will ever give it a try?

How Many Steps Should You Take in a Day?

Everybody needs to move their feet. Walking can improve your blood circulation, protect your heart, reduce pain and improve your mood. According to several studies, people who walk every day spend less time in the hospital, have lower blood pressure and feel less depressed.

If you want to burn calories, you probably need to kick things up a notch to brisk walking, but even going for a calm, relaxed walk is good for you. How many steps should you aim for every day?

“Are You Serious … 10,000 Steps?!”

Many health professionals recommend reaching about 10,000 steps a day. That equals about 5 miles. If you feel a little shocked, you’re not alone. Most Americans only walk 3,000–4,000 steps on average, or around 2 miles.

Good news! A recent study says that you’re OK aiming for between 7,000 and 10,000 steps a day. It’s that 7,000-step marker that’s really important for your heart and your health.

Keep in mind that counting the steps you take looks at your physical activity throughout the day. It includes walking from place to place at work, walking around the store when you’re shopping for groceries and doing activities at home.

The Benefits of Walking More

Any physical exercise has a positive effect on your health, but hitting that range of 7,000–10,000 steps a day can make a major impact:

  • Lower risk of heart problems
  • Reduced risk of developing diabetes
  • Lower overall weight
  • Lower cholesterol levels
  • Reduced risk of cancer
  • Reduced risk of stroke

All of these benefits add up. People who walk every day are nearly 40% less likely to die compared to people who live a sedentary lifestyle.

Tips for Upping Your Step Count

You don’t need a gym membership or expensive equipment to meet your step count goals. Here are a few tips for success:

  • Use a comfy pair of shoes: Walking shoes can help you enjoy your exercise more. The happier your feet are, the more likely you’ll get into a walking routine.
  • Set smaller goals: You don’t have to reach your magical number from one day to another. If you’re hitting 4,000 a day this week, aim for 5,000 a day next week.
  • Walk at work: Visit co-workers in person instead of sending emails or calling their extension. Physical activity does you good.
  • Go for a walk after lunch: Instead of heading back to your desk right away after lunch, take advantage of your time to go for a short walk outside. Plus, the fresh air is good for mental focus and mood in the afternoon.

Put on some music: An energetic tune gets you in the mood to move your feet without even thinking about it.

Ways To Stay Active During Cold Months

What if you can’t spend much time outdoors because of freezing temps? Instead of counting 7,000–10,000 steps, focus on doing moderate exercise for 150–300 minutes a week (20–40 minutes a day). Riding a bike, jumping rope, vacuuming your house, using an elliptical trainer and following a dance routine are examples of moderate-intensity exercise you can do at home. Remember that the main goal is just to increase your heart rate and get your muscles working!