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Exercise your need to stretch

Maybe it’s time to print warnings on the sides of television sets: “Lounging around and watching TV can be dangerous to your health.”

Part of it is opportunity lost. The more hours we spend passively watching television, the less time we spend actively engaged in sports and games that keep our muscles pumped, our joints juiced, our hearts alive.

Another health issue has to do with chronic poor posture. Forget the fact that television lulls the mind, dulls the senses and creates the desire for products nobody needs. Most us of watch television in a semi-slumped position, lounging on a soft sofa or cushy chair, with the lower back rounded and the head and neck rolled forward.

So what? So plenty. After just 30 minutes of poor television -watching posture, your body begins to suffer. Muscles, ligaments, joints and connective tissue tighten, creating a feeling of stiffness. Over time - days, weeks and years of television watching - your muscles can weaken and atrophy, causing you to walk with your head forward, your shoulders rounded, your abdomen protruding. Not a pretty picture. But just look around, or in a mirror, and you’ll see what I mean.

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You’ll feel it, too. Do you wake up in the morning with pain or stiffness in your lower back or your neck? That too can be a sign of Coach Potato Syndrome. You might think that kind of discomfort is just part of the aging process. Wrong. It’s your body’s way of telling you that you are risking serious injury if you don’t wake up and do something to boost your strength and increase your flexibility.

Tune into this: Here are some simple exercises you can do - you should do - to counteract the effects of too much time in front of the television. And yes, you can do them while watching television.

Neck stretches: Sit at the edge of your couch or chair, feet flat on the floor. Move your shoulders up toward your ears and then roll them back so your shoulder blades press toward each other. Relax and look straight ahead, your chin slightly tucked in. Position your head directly over your shoulders. Now gently tilt your head from side to side, slowly moving your ear toward your shoulder. Hold for a count of five or so. Breathe deeply, inhaling and exhaling with awareness. Repeat three times on each side.

Upper back: Stand with your feet 12 to 24 inches from the wall, and gently lean your back against the wall. You should feel comfortable and well-supported. With your palms facing up, slowly raise your arms over your head. Then slowly lower. Inhale deeply as you raise your arms; exhale as you lower them. Repeat 10 times or more.

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Partial curl-ups: Lie on your back with knees bent and hands behind your head or crossed at your chest. Engage your core muscles. Slowly curl up your head and shoulders until your shoulder blades are lifted off the floor, then lower, in control. Keep your lower back flat through the motion. Smile. Repeat 15 times.

Cat and camel: Get down on your hands and knees. Your shoulders should be over your wrists. Inhale and allow your head to roll down, toward your chest, as you round your back. Exhale, tightening your abdomen, raising your head and releasing your back. Keep your elbows straight and repeat 10 times or more.

Remember: There are a zillion exercises you can do in front of the television to stretch and strengthen your body. Try these or find others but don’t just sit there, slumped over and stupid, or over time, your body will stiffen and suffer.

Write Marilynn Preston in care of

The Light, 565 Pearl St., Suite 300,

La Jolla, 92037.