Prepare your muscles and joints for a full day of functioning.
It's hard to jump out of bed for a great day when your muscles are stiff and your joints creaky. But you can change that by warming up and stretching before your feet ever touch the floor.
"Stretching before getting out of bed can help wake up the body and improve the circulation. It can also turn on the parasympathetic system - the 'rest and digest' system — which puts us in a more relaxed state right when we get out of bed, helping set the tone for a calm morning and day," says Dr. Beth Frates, who directs wellness programming for the Stroke Research and Recovery Institute at Harvard-affiliated Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital.
Theoretically, stretching before getting out of bed may also help prevent falls. "By focusing on your legs and arms, you may be more careful and mindful when you put your feet on the ground," Dr. Frates says.
How should you start?
Normally before you stretch, you should warm up your muscles; that gets blood flowing to them so they're more pliable. But Dr. Frates says the muscles are already on the warmer side when you've been in bed all night. All it takes to prepare for stretches in bed, then, is a few minutes of flexing the joints before you stretch. (Tip: Remove your blanket and sheets before stretching, to give yourself a little more room.)
While you're still lying down, flex your lower limbs: put your knees and feet in the air; with your knees in the air, raise and lower your feet; roll your ankles and move them back and forth.
Next, sit up in bed. Slowly look left and then right. Roll your shoulders a few times; work your elbows by holding both arms in front of you and doing biceps curls; flex your wrists up and down; open and close your hands several times.
Now you're ready to start stretching. Try the stretches we've laid out for you on these pages (in any order you like). Some require a towel or resistance band, which you can keep next to your bed.
"Hold each stretch for 30 to 60 seconds if possible," Dr. Frates advises. "And don't bounce, which can damage the muscles."
When you finish stretching, you'll probably feel better. "Stretching can release the body's 'feel good' chemicals, lubricate the joints, and help you maintain your range of motion," Dr. Frates says. And that makes the wake-up stretching routine a prescription for a full day of better functioning.
For more stretching, including additional exercises, check out the Harvard Special Health Report Stretching (www.health.harvard.edu/str).
Full-body stretch with resistance band
Lie on your back with both legs extended. Hold the band shoulder-distance apart with both hands by your hips. Lift the strap up toward the ceiling, over your head and down toward the bed behind you.
Single knee pull
Lie on your back with your legs extended. Bend your left knee. Grasp the back of your left thigh and pull your knee toward your chest. Flex your right foot and press the thigh and calf of that leg down toward the bed to feel a stretch in the front of your right hip and top of your right thigh. Return to the starting position and repeat with the other leg.
Side-lying quadriceps stretch
Lie on your right side with your legs stacked and extended. Rest your right arm under your head. Bend your left knee and bring your heel toward your left buttock, reaching back with your left hand to grasp your foot. Feel the stretch in the front of your thigh and hip. Turn onto your left side and repeat the exercise.
Hamstring stretch with resistance band
Lie on your back with your left leg extended. Bend your right knee and place the strap around your right foot. Hold the strap with both hands. Flex your right foot and lift it toward the ceiling, straightening the leg as much as possible. Pull the strap to feel the muscle stretch. Repeat on the other side.
Position yourself on all fours, knees hip-width apart, big toes touching, and head and neck in neutral alignment. Slowly drop your buttocks back toward your heels as you extend your hands in front of you and rest your forehead on the bed. Feel the stretch down your arms, shoulders, and back.
Lie facedown with your legs extended and toes pointed. Place your hands just below your shoulders, palms down, and press your palms against the bed to slowly lift your head, shoulders, and chest. Feel the stretch down the front of your torso and across your chest.
Stretching & exercise photos by Michael Carroll