Stretching for just 10 minutes a day can help ease the symptoms of menopause and depression, new research suggests.
Stretching helps menopausal women…
Experts evaluated the impact of light exercise on middle-aged women, focusing on hot flashes and chills, mood and sleep disturbance and body aches. Dr JoAnn Pinkerton, executive director of The North American Menopause Society, said: 'If women were to exercise with light walking 30 minutes daily and then stretch for 10 minutes, they might improve their health, menopausal symptoms, mood and cognition and, if stretching helps sleep, improve their sleep.'
Forty Japanese women, aged 40 to 61, took part in the study at the Physical Fitness Research Institute, Meji Yasuda Life Foundation of Health and Welfare in Tokyo. Twenty of the women were randomly assigned to stretch 10 minutes a day, before bedtime for three weeks. The other 20 were instructed to remain sedentary before bed.
Researchers led by Yuko Kai, evaluated the women's menopausal symptoms using 10 questions about vasomotor symptoms, including hot flashes and chills. And they also assessed psychological symptoms, including mood and sleep disturbances, as well as body aches. They used a separate set of questions to evaluate the symptoms of depression.
At the start, the groups were generally similar. More than half the participants were postmenopausal and nearly two-thirds had depression. Most of the women were not physically active.
On average, the stretching group stretched about five days per week. Overall, the women in the stretching group had improved scores on both sets of questions after the three-week study period, compared to the group that didn't stretch before bed. The frequency of hot flashes wasn't different in the two groups, however.
While stretching before bed isn't a bad idea, Dr Pinkerton, said: 'It is impossible to tell if the positive effect found from stretching on menopausal and depressive symptoms was due to the stretching, the increased movement, or not doing whatever they normally do during the 10 minutes before bed such as eat, smoke or drink.'
Overall, the women in the stretching group had improved scores on both sets of questions relating to menopause - assessing psychological symptoms, including mood and sleep disturbances, as well as body aches and hot flashes - and depression, after the three-week study period, compared to the group that didn't stretch before bed. The frequency of hot flashes wasn't different in the two groups, however.
Dr Pinkerton said the results would have been more interesting if the comparison group had been assigned a task to do before bedtime, to see if it was the stretching itself that was helpful or just the fact of doing something before bed. In most studies of methods for reducing hot flashes, the placebo group sees some improvement, too, she pointed out. In this trial, the comparison group had no improvement at all, which means, she said, that it was not an adequate control group.
For more conclusive results, Dr Pinkerton said: 'This study needs to be replicated with larger, more diverse postmenopausal women with an active control group.' In the meantime, she added, women should remember that, 'being sedentary has been shown to be bad for (their) physical and mental health and to increase hot flashes. Being active every day has been shown to lessen severity of hot flashes, improve mood, coping ability and may decrease (their) risk of cognitive loss.'
Stretching helps menopausal women… non-conclusive…
This study relies on a small number of subjects in a specific group (40 Japanese women aged 40-61 who were asked to stretch for 10 minutes daily before bed). Such a small number of subjects limits the power and generalizability of the results.
Menopausal symptoms were self-reported and as such were subject to a degree of subjectivity, though to the researchers’ credit standardized indices were used (the Simplified Menopausal Index and the Self-Rating Depression Scale) and a degree of randomization was employed.
However, the study lacked an effective control group — the comparison group was not assigned a task to do before bed and so was not able to report any improvement in their symptoms.
It is also surprising that there was a compliance rate of just 75 percent in a program which lasted only three weeks, but there was nonetheless an observed reduction in the severity of symptoms reported using these scales.
This study should ideally be repeated in a larger, more diverse group of postmenopausal women and with a suitably active control group in order to draw useful, meaningful results from the researchers’ observations.
General flexibility guidelines
Well, if you want to check the effectiveness of stretching personally, there is no harm in that. But you may gain a lot be easing your menopausal symptoms, lifting your mood, and getting other noticeable health benefits.
Here are the several important guidelines:
ü Warm up before stretching
ü Don’t bounce during stretching.
ü Don’t hold your breath during a stretch.
ü Stretching should not cause pain, be gentle.
ü Don’t combine turning and bending back exercises at the same time. To stretch the back relax in a chair by supporting yourself with your hands on your legs while leaning forward.
ü When performing knee bends, don’t drop your buttock below the level of your knees. This places too much strain on your knees. Better to do shallow knee bends, keeping your feet apart and not locking the knees. Keep your back straight throughout the exercise.
ü Avoid pressing the head backward during head rolls which can damage the vertebrae in your neck. Move the head gently from side to side, never too quickly.
How to start?
Here are several exercises you can start your stretching self-study with:
1. Arm Opener
What it does: Stretches your arms, chest, and shoulders
Get ready: Stand with your feet comfortably apart. Take your hands and interlace them behind your tailbone with knuckles down.
Go! Looking straight ahead and with soft arms, gently drive your arms up and as far away from your tailbone as you can. Go to where you feel a nice stretch and take five deep breaths into your chest.
2. Chin Drop
What it does: Stretches your neck and shoulders
Get ready: Bring your arms in front of you with your elbows touching, and your palms facing you with the sides of your pinkies touching.
Go! Put your palms on top of your head and using the weight of your arms, gently drop your chin to where you feel a nice stretch in your neck and shoulders. Take five deep breaths into your upper back and into the tightest areas releasing any unnecessary tension.
What it does: Balances your hips, stretches your legs' hamstrings and lower back
Get ready: Put your feet together and flat on the ground.
Go! Slowly bend forward at your waist and walk your hands down your legs, as low as it feels comfortable. Then alternate bending one knee and keeping the other leg straight (but still keeping your feet flat) and let your head dangle down, releasing all your tension. Stretch each side for 15 seconds. If one side is tighter stay there longer to maintain muscle balance.
4. Hula Hoop
What it does: Warms up and loosens your hips, increasing mobility
Get ready: Stand with your feet together and hands on your waist.
Go! Circle your hips five times clockwise and then five times counter-clockwise. Pretend there is a string from the top of your head elongating your spine, resist moving your shoulders, keep your stomach pulled in, and focus on moving your hips in as wide a circle as possible.
5. Overhead Triceps Stretch
What it does: Stretches your arms
Get ready: Stand with your feet hip-width apart and roll your shoulders down and back.
Go! Reach your right arm to the ceiling keeping your shoulder down away from your ears. Bend your right elbow, placing your right hand toward the middle of your back with your palm facing your back. Reach your left hand to the ceiling and place your fingers on your right arm, just above the elbow. Hold the stretch position for 15-30 seconds. Repeat 2-4 times, trying to stretch a little deeper each time.
6. Yo Yo
What it does: Aligns your spine and improves your posture
Get ready: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and toes slightly angled out. Interlace your hands and bring them up to chest level, about six inches in front of your chest, with palms facing away from your body, and your elbows out to either side.
Go! From this position, and while keeping your lower body stationary, twist your upper body from side to side to where it feels comfortable, leading with your elbows, and keeping your head in line with your torso. If you prone to getting dizzy, keep your gaze forward. Do 10 times.
7. 90 Lat Stretch
What it does: Stretches your back
Get ready: Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your arms by your sides. Brace your abdominal muscles to stabilize your spine. Pull your shoulder blades down and back. Keep your chest lifted and your chin tilted up slightly.
Go! With a slight bend in your knees, shift your weight over your heels and slowly begin bending forward at the hips. Keep your abdominals braced and your back flat. Place your hands on the table. Keep your arms straight so there is a line from the shoulders, through the elbows to the wrists. With your hands on the table, keep your legs directly under your hips. Lean back into your hips, straighten your legs and draw your body toward the ground, maintaining a flat back. Keep your chin tucked into your neck to stabilize your spine and to keep your head from dropping towards the floor. Hold the stretch position for 15-30 seconds. Repeat 2-4 times.
8. Quad Pull
What it does: Stretches your thighs and improves flexibility
Get ready: Stand with your feet together and arms at your sides.
Go! Put your right hand on a wall or table for support, then balance on your right leg and bend your left knee back, bringing up your left foot until you can grab the ankle with your left hand. Maintain a straight line from the top of your head to your tailbone. Keep your chest lifted and take five deep breaths, then switch sides.
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