KEYS TO FITNESS: Stretching

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By Sheila Yonemoto, PT
(First published in The Rafu Shimpo on Feb. 2, 2012.)

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Most people could benefit from doing basic aerobic conditioning combined with a flexibility and conditioning program. The importance of range of movement really hit home while working with seniors at a nursing home. An 87-year-old woman who had been active all her life now had problems putting on her socks and shoes. Her program consisted primarily of increasing flexibility of her hips and she soon succeeded in the task.

For her, putting on her own shoes and socks was like winning a gold medal in the Olympics. I began to wonder how she got into such a state since simple stretching fixed her problem. She was probably unaware of the tightness developing in her hips and didn’t know how to combat the crippling condition.

Slow, sustained stretching with a minimum of 15-30 seconds for each muscle group is best, as this pace is least likely to cause injuries. Studies have shown three repetitions will accomplish 80-90% of the stretching. I recommend a minimum of three stretches but you can stretch until you feel the muscle has stopped changing in length.

Find a time to exercise without distractions and focus on the feeling. Stretching should promote a feeling of well-being and relaxation. Sometimes stretches need to be done periodically throughout the day. Dogs and cats often stretch after waking up.

I don’t recommend stretching into pain. Pain tells you all is not well in that part of the body and you need to stop. Decrease stretching to the point where is it still comfortable but a stretch is felt. Advance the amount of stretch as you can tolerate it.

Usually the muscles you need to stretch are those that feel hard, possibly having a rope-like or cord-like appearance, and they may feel tight when you stretch them. A physical therapist can prescribe a specific stretching program for you. Stretching classes are available in most communities. The best classes encourage slow, sustained stretching where you go at your own pace.

The benefits of regular stretching include: muscles being able to generate more force with less effort; better circulation, since muscles won’t be as tight and blood can flow more easily; a better balance of muscle tension around the joints, making it easier to move.

And, perhaps, when you are 87 years old, you will be able to put on your socks and shoes by yourself.

Try a no-impact qigong Chinese energy class. Your first class, a $30 value, is free! Classes are held at Y.P.T.  Call for more info. 

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Sheila Yonemoto, P.T., has been a physical therapist for over 30 years, specializing in Integrative Manual Therapy utilizing a holistic approach. She can be reached at Yonemoto Physical Therapy, 55 S. Raymond Ave., Suite 100, Alhambra, CA  91801. Call (626) 576 0591 for a free consultation, or visit www.yonemoto.com for more information. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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