Fitness First: Benefits of Stretching

Krista Howell
By Krista Howell September 15, 2008 16:42

Have you dropped something lately and thought twice before bending over to pick it up? If you got down on the floor, are you confident you would be able to get up?

We take these types of activities for granted most of our life. But as I have seen in the senior exercise classes I teach, there seems to be a point when we begin to buy slip-on shoes and no longer can easily get up off the floor. Does this sound familiar? And is it too late for change?

Aging, injuries, or an inactive lifestyle can result in lost flexibility. Fortunately, for most of us it’s never too late to begin a flexibility and stretching program. Sedentary people, more than anyone, need the relief from muscle tension and stiffness that stretching provides. The more you move, the more flexible your muscles become. And when stretching is practiced correctly, it just feels great.

Whether you are physically limited or an enthusiastic regular exercise, here are some tips to help you get started.

First, let’s talk about physiology. Together, muscle and bones comprise the body’s musculoskeletal system. Bones provide posture and structural support, and muscles allow the body to move. Not only are muscles involved while we stretch, but also tendons and ligaments. Flexibility is the ability to move muscles and joints through their full range of motion.

The stretching of a muscle fiber begins with a contraction of the muscle fiber. As you hold the stretch, the muscle fibers are allowed to stretch. This realignment of the muscle fibers is what helps to rehabilitate sore, tight or injured muscles back to health.

There are two primary types of stretching. First is the very old school of stretching that is called “ballistic.” My older students tend to remember this from their first gym class. This is stretching that is performed in a fast, bouncing pattern. Second is “static” stretching, which is much safer. Static stretches are held for 10-60 seconds. Holding a muscle in a stretched position for a prolonged period allows it to become adapted to the new length.

Stretching has many benefits. It helps to improve muscular and joint range of motion, muscle tone and mobility, and circulation in your muscles, ligaments, tendons and joints.

It also can decrease or prevent muscle and joint pain, along with orthopedic injuries.

Before you start a stretching routine, determine how much time you can devote to it daily, and when you will do exercises. A realistic goal is 15 minutes daily.

Here is a guide to the famous Williams Low-Back exercises that are prescribed by many health-care professionals and have stood the test of time for helping patients with low-back pain.

  1. Pelvic tilt: lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Flatten the small of your back against the floor. Hold for 5-10 seconds.
  2. Single knee to chest: lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Slowly pull your right knee toward your shoulder and hold 5-10 seconds. Lower the knee and repeat with the left leg.
  3. Double knee to chest: begin as in the previous exercise. Bring both knees to your chest. Hold for 5-10 seconds.
  4. Partial sit-up: Do the pelvic tilt exercise and slowly curl your head and shoulders off the floor. Hold 5 seconds.
  5. Hamstring stretch: Start in a sitting position with both legs out in front straight. Slowly reach your toes. Hold 15-30 seconds.
  6. Repeat each exercise 10 times.

Flexibility is only one of the five main components of an exercise program. Don’t forget to continue with your regular cardiovascular exercises such as walking. Other great options for improving your flexibility are tai chi or yoga classes. There are several of these available in our community.

Exercise physiologist Krista Howell teaches senior fitness classes, and supervises cardiac rehab patients for Sonora Regional Medical Center.

© 2008, Friends and Neighbors Magazine

Krista Howell
By Krista Howell September 15, 2008 16:42
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