Stretching is an integral part of our fitness and health.
Gulf Today Report
You may have heard physical trainers and fitness enthusiasts say umpteen number of times that stretching before any workout is sacrosanct.
But truth be told, it is hardly anyone’s favourite part of staying active.
Whether or not you’re a fitness buff, it’s the kind of thing we know we should be doing, but often find hard to fit into our busy lives.
However, it’s important to remind ourselves that we mustn’t skip it as it plays a very vital role in keeping our muscles agile.
“Stretching is an integral part of our fitness and health,” explains senior physiotherapist Michelle Njagi to The Independent.
“Stretching is really important because it keeps muscles flexible, it keeps them healthy and strong, and it’s really important for the range of movement in the joints as well — if you don’t have flexibility in the muscles, you’re not going to be able to move as much in the joints and you’ll be limited in what you can and can’t do.
“Without it, muscles become shorter and tighter. For example, if you do have quite tight hamstrings — the muscle at the back of your legs — it can make everyday things like walking harder, and can cause things like lower back pain.”
The biggest mistake we tend to make is assuming stretching is only for those who exercise daily.
“If anything it’s more important,” says Njagi. “It’s the age old saying: If you don’t use it, you lose it. It’s really important, especially if you do have quite a static lifestyle where you work at a desk, that you do try and move as much as you can.”
If you regularly exercise, not properly warming up and cooling down can lead to getting “injured more easily through strains and pulling muscles,” says Njagi.
It’s still crucial even if you don’t do HIIT five times a week. Njagi explains: “If you’re not exercising much, you might feel like you can go about your day normally, but there will be days when you’re doing everyday things like shopping or bending to reach something — if you’re not flexible enough, that’s when you can get things like pulled back muscles.
“You might not think you’ve been exercising, but it is a form of exercise — just in your everyday life. If you’re not able to move into those positions, you’re more likely to get general injuries.”
Aches and pains
If you experience general aches and pains it might signal that you need to start stretching, states Njagi.
Other things to look out for? “If you wake up in the mornings you might feel a bit more stiff, it takes you a bit longer to get moving, you might feel like you need heat to get moving a bit more.”
Another symptom is prolonged soreness after exercise.
“Stretching improves your blood flow and circulation that also helps with muscle recovery from exercise,” explains the physiotherapist.
“It can reduce things like delayed onset muscle soreness.”
“Stretching can help promote a proper alignment in your body,” says Njagi.
“If you work and sit at a desk, some muscles will get tighter while others will get weaker, and without stretching, posture gets worse and this can lead to more pain.”
Getting into a stretching routine
Before getting into a stretching regime, Njagi advices to: “Start small — don’t try to do the hardest yoga session you’ve ever done in your life.”
She recommends doing stretches at your desk “so it doesn’t affect your time too much, so you can still fit it in.”
Note that if you regularly workout, it’s especially important to include warm-up and cool down in the form of stretching before and after your session.
If you are new to stretching or have any concerns, Njagi recommends “speaking to a professional to help advise you on the best stretches.”
Otherwise, she suggests starting out with big muscle groups like the hamstrings. This area has a knock-on effect on the rest of your body.
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