Seated ankle circles

As you get older you naturally lose range of motion in your joints, but particularly in the ankle joint. Ankle circles help increase range of motion in the joint, and they also make walking feel much more comfortable. So go ahead take your shoes off.

To do this exercise, follow these steps:

1. Sit up tall with your feet flat on the floor.

2. Place your hands under your right knee and clasp them together.

3. Use your hands to lift your knee, lifting your foot a few inches off the floor.

4. Inhale and as you exhale, circle your ankle eight times inward and then eight times outward (see Figure 10-11).

5. Repeat this stretch on your other ankle.

Imagine there's a pencil attached to your big toe and you're trying to draw the largest circle you can. Go slow enough so you draw a perfectly round circle.

l Do support the weight of your leg with your hands. l Don't rush the movement.

Stress! How it affects you and your body

Excess stress can lower your immune system, make you depressed, and make you sick, but according to Pamela Peeke, MD, MPH, too much stress can also make you fat! How? Stress activates the "flight-or-fight" response, a physiological reaction designed to help your body react decisively in an emergency. When confronted with a perceived threat, your brain commands your adrenal glands to dump a large amount of the stress hormone cortisol into your bloodstream. One of the functions of cortisol is to quickly release energy stored in fat cells. Your muscles use the energy to help avert the emergency. The problem is that, even after the emergency is over, the level of cortisol in your bloodstream remains elevated to help encourage you to restock your stores of fat.

In addition, stressed-out women who carry weight in their abdominal area secrete significantly more cortisol than women who don't have excess fat around their waistline, according to a study from the University of California at San Francisco. And since abdominal fat tissue has up to four times the number of receptors for cortisol as does fat elsewhere in the body, the cells in this area are the most likely to store fat as a result of cortisol. Unfortunately, this excess tummy doesn't just spill over the top of your low-rise jeans; it's an indicator of increased risk for stroke and heart disease, two major killers of women over 50 years old.

What's the solution? When it comes to reducing stress, experts consistently point to regular exercise, which can also help combat cardiovascular disease. And there's nothing more effective to help you reduce the muscle tension brought on by excess stress than a good, invigorating stretch.

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