Columnists,Lorraine Cattell,Main Slider,Top Story l by Lorraine Cattell l 15 Nov 2021     - 32

Don’t Have Enough Time to Engage in a Fitness Routine? Try Just Stretching!

Sri Lanka, with its long sandy beaches, picturesque lakes, lush jungles, and endless beautiful mountain ranges throughout the island’s tea country, offers plenty of localities to engage in fitness activities even if not everyone wants to commit to a full exercise routine.

Despite the growing fitness and yoga fad and healthy eating trends sweeping Sri Lanka, especially in Colombo, keeping fit by exercising at home or outdoors has yet to gain widespread popularity. It's true that in rural areas people may consider that agricultural activities like farming and crop cultivation provide adequate physical activity, and many youngsters take part in energetic sports such as cricket and volleyball, but there are some really great basic exercises we can all do to keep fit wherever we may be, alone or with others, and which won't attract too much attention either. So, let's bring on the benefits of stretching!

Stretching is one of the simplest forms of physical exercise, yet it offers many significant therapeutic and psychological benefits to health and wellbeing. It feels good too because, when we stretch, the body releases chemicals called 'endorphins' which act as analgesics, blocking or interfering with pain signals to the brain, accompanied by an increase in serotonin levels – that’s the hormone which helps stabilise our mood and reduces stress.

Stretching can be a fun form of gentle exercise for people of all ages, whether it's a 20 or 30 minute session, or simply a five minute routine. What’s more, stretching doesn’t require any fancy equipment or special clothing: it can be done any time and anywhere, even at work!

  • Note: as with any form of exercise, please check with your doctor if you have any sort of medical condition that might be aggravated by stretching.

Most of us do some form of stretching on a daily basis without realising, e.g. reaching for that plate on the top shelf or straining to reach a window catch, while for children there are ample opportunities for them to stretch their muscles when playing or climbing outdoors.

First thing in the morning, why not relieve any tension or discomfort from last night’s sleep and feel the benefits of stretching with this easy and simple exercise? All it takes is to stand with your feet apart, knees and hips relaxed, interlock your fingers, and extend your arms above your head, palms up. Take 10 slow, deep breaths, elongating the stretch on each exhale. Relax, and repeat once more.

At the other end of the day, a little gentle stretching for 20 or 30 minutes as you are winding down before bed will relax your muscles and help your body rejuvenate itself. A simple neck stretch will ease tension: either sitting or standing, with your face forward and your right ear tilted toward your right shoulder, reach your left hand toward the floor. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds and repeat two to three times, then switch to the left ear/right hand, and repeat.

Stretching improves our flexibility and suppleness which, in turn, helps us to maintain a range of motion in our joints whilst building strength and stability. Consistent stretching can improve agility and help delay the reduced mobility that comes with ageing.

But that's not all! If we incorporate stretching into our daily regimen (or at least two or three times per week), we can expect even more additional benefits:

  • Improved posture – Tight, weakened muscles, especially in the shoulders, neck and back, will often lead to poor posture. This can result in back pain, spinal dysfunction, joint degeneration and rounded shoulders. Although we may not be able to avoid some daily activities where our spine is forced into unnatural positions, e.g. sitting at a computer desk for prolonged periods, stretching muscles such as the pectoralis (chest) and hamstrings (thigh) will go a long way to improving poor posture.
  • Increased blood flow to the muscles – Stretching increases blood circulation by causing the blood vessels in your muscles to dilate. This enhanced blood flow increases the amount of oxygen delivered to the active muscles, even if for a short period of time.
  • Improved joint health – We often notice muscle stiffness after periods of inactivity or certain types of physical exertion, such as walking long distances or hard manual work around the garden. Your body may become more vulnerable to muscle pain as you get older. Stretching helps your joints move through their full range of motion and decreases the chances of suffering from the muscular discomfort known as 'Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness' (DOMS), which can last up to 48 hours after certain activities and exercise.
  • Preventing injuries – Stretching before physical activity will warm up the muscles and increase the blood flow, reducing the likelihood of an injury such as a strained or torn muscle. It will also contribute to the prevention of muscle stiffness.

Stretching will positively help your muscles work better and result in you feeling fitter and healthier, but don't push yourself too far by over-stretching and pulling a muscle. A gentle and relaxing way to begin a stretching regime is to take up the modern yoga pose, Bālāsana, a kneeling position where you slowly bend over and touch the forehead to the ground, with arms at your sides, palms facing up, inhaling and exhaling slowly and deeply.

Stretching is also an effective method of ingraining healthy habits in children. Toddlers love stretching, and teaching them to warm up for a few minutes before or after any kind of exercise is very beneficial. As with adults, it will increase their flexibility and range of motion, get their blood pumping, and reduce the risk of sustaining injury such as a pulled muscle.

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Lorraine Cattell

Lorraine Cattell (Eyre) is a renowned international British Fashion Journalist. Her articles & interviews appear regularly in magazines & online across the globe.

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