Guest column | Fitness, just a stretch away

People often prioritize cardiovascular exercise and strength training as part of their workout regime, but forget to stretch. Stretching helps maintain overall health and should be incorporated into one’s fitness routine.

It is beneficial for all age groups and can be tailored as per each individual’s age, activity and fitness levels and goals. While children are naturally flexible, they too should perform stretching exercises everyday as their muscles may become tight, particularly during growth spurts.

Stretching properly can increase and improve motion in joints, increase blood flow and decrease the feeling of stiffness. Not stretching before and after exercise is a major mistake as working on the muscles without stretching or warm-up may cause an injury. There are different types of stretches – dynamic and static. In dynamic stretching, muscles and joints are moved through a full range of motion during active movement. Dynamic exercises help warm up the muscle, increase flexibility and blood flow to an area, enhance muscular performance by improving speed, agility and acceleration, decrease the risk of injury and passive stiffness.

Static stretching improves one’s flexibility and range of motion, it can also help muscles recover faster after a workout, leading to less pain and stiffness. Static stretching is also a great way to release stress and tension from muscles, which can help one feel more relaxed.

The benefits of stretching are:

Decreased stress : High levels of stress can cause one’s muscles to feel tense and tight. Stretching muscles can help them relax, and when combined with mindful breathing exercises, it can also reduce stress and anxiety.

Stretching reduces lactic acid build up: The body produces lactic acid whenever one exercises, which contributes to sore, and achy muscles. Stretching can help reduce the accumulation of lactic acid in the body. It also relaxes tense muscles.

Helps with arthritic pain: An inactive lifestyle can cause muscles to tighten and lose flexibility over time and the chances of tears and aches, not only in muscles, but also in the tissues surrounding the joints. Stretching warms up the muscles and loosens joints to help one move better.

The elderly should also make it a point to stretch because even though our bodies start to degenerate with age, maintaining mobility can be difficult for many. Muscles and joints weaken and the range of movement deteriorates, both osteoarthritis and spinal stenosis are a natural part of aging, and sometimes lack of calcium affects bone density. Weakened bones can add to posture problems that cannot be directly avoided. Stretching can greatly alleviate these problems, while increasing circulation, muscle control, and improving balance and coordination.

Stretching reduces the risk of falling, which is a major concern among older adults. As we age, our body’s water content in connective tissue, such as ligaments and tendons, decreases, resulting in reduced elasticity and flexibility. This can cause pain in the lower back and between the shoulder blades.

So, one should stretch and keep fit!

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(The writer is a Chandigarh-based fitness trainer)

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