Anti-Aging Tactic #1: Bring Your Body into Alignment

Keep your muscles and joints functioning well by using these five tests to spot weak or tight areas. Then remedy the situation with our simple exercises

by Ginny Graves
woman back image
Photograph: Illustrated by Bryan Stauffer

The fix Do the same move as in the test, but let right hand dangle down between shoulder blades. Then put left hand behind your back and reach up, trying to touch right hand. Reach until you can feel a moderate stretch. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on other side. Do three more times.

Sore point: lower back

Possible pain source Tight hamstrings, the muscles at the backs of your thighs. When too constricted, hamstrings are prone to strains.

Test yourself  Lie on back with left leg bent, foot flat on the ground. Lift right leg off the ground as far as you can while keeping right knee straight. If you can’t get your leg beyond 80 degrees (the angle formed at your hip), your hamstrings are too tight.

Why the imbalance “Sittingfor long hours is a problem, because that keeps your hamstrings in a shortened position,” says Marilyn Moffat, PhD, professor of physical therapy at New York University. Exercising without stretching the hamstrings can constrict the muscles more.

The fix    Sit on the floorwith legs straight in front of you and hands resting on thighs. Slowly walk hands toward feet as far as you can. You should feel pressure but not pain. Hold for 30 seconds. (If you can’t reach your toes, it’s an indication that your hamstrings and lower-back muscles are tight; this stretch will help with both.) Repeat three more times.

Sore points: knees and hips

Possible pain source Tight hip adductors, the muscles on the inside of your upper thighs that allow you to squeeze your legs together. When they are too inflexible, these muscles can cause the femur (thighbone) to rotate inward and throw the knee joint out of line—a common cause of knee pain.

Test yourself  Sit on the floor with legs straight, then spread them open as far as you can. If you can’t openthem more than 80 or 90 degrees, or if it hurts to bend forward at your hips with your back straight, your hip adductors are tight.

Why the imbalance These muscles can become tight in women who often sit with their legs crossed.

The fix The stretch is the same as the test. Sit with legs spread as far as possible. You should feel tension but not pain. Hold for 30 seconds and return to starting position. Repeat three times. (See exercise No. 4, left.)

Sore points: knees

Possible pain source Underdeveloped quadriceps, the large muscles on the front of the thighs. Weak quads can also contribute to poor balance. (See “Balancing Act” on page 132.)

Test yourself    Place the back of a dining room chair against a wall to stabilize it. Sit in the chair, cross your arms at your chest and stand up and sit down as many times as you can in 30 seconds. You should be able to do this at least 21 times.

Why the imbalance  “Inactivity, plain and simple,” Moffat says.

The fix Sit in a chair withfeet flat on the floor. Wrap an ankle weight around right ankle and lift lower leg by straightening knee until leg is parallel with floor. Hold this position briefly, then lower the leg. Do 8 to 12 reps; repeat with left leg. Do the routine one or two more times. (See exercise No. 5, left.)

Next: Test Your Balance

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First published in the May 2012 issue

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