The most important thing to do as you age
A vigorous workout program of aerobics or weight resistance may not be your cup of tea; but the one thing you should never neglect is stretching.
As people get older, their white tissues — the tendons at each end of muscles, and the ligaments that hold the bones together — contract and get shorter. If you do nothing to change this part of ageing, you’ll definitely be prone to injury — sprains, strains and even tearing of the tissue involved. You may do something as simple as reaching across the table for a condiment, only to strain your contracted shoulder tendon. That strain may hurt for weeks.
While stretching works best if the tissues are warmed up and pliable, you can also stretch without a warmup if you let pain be your guide. Stretching should never cause pain. If it does, that means the tissues are at the limit of their range of motion and can be injured if stretched further.
In addition to giving you a greater reach and more ability to protect yourself in a fall, making the white tissues more pliable will stop you from moving like an ‘old’ person. Walking becomes easier. So does sitting down or rising up from a chair or couch. Tissues that are frequently stretched become more precise. You can reach for a doorknob and grab it without fumbling around. You’ll be able to insert a key without jabbing the lock. You won’t drop your keys as often.
One of the most common tissue injuries is to the hamstring, a large muscle group on the back of the thigh. This can happen from a fall, a bend to one side or the other, or just a stumble beyond the hamstring’s normal range of motion. However, a well stretched-out hamstring will not be as prone to serious injury because it will have a better range of motion.
You don’t have to go to a gym for this stretch. Simply bend over at the hips and touch your fingers to your shin. Are you flexible enough to touch your toes? Can you put your whole hand on the floor or the top of your shoe, or can you only reach to mid-shin?
If you’re not very flexible, you can gradually extend your range of motion and flexibility by stretching out at least every other day. Don’t be shocked to find at first that you can no longer touch your toes with straight legs. By doing hamstring stretches on a regular basis, you’ll be able to reach your toes or the floor easily. The problem is, once tissues are contracted because of age, they take a long time to get their flexibility back. You may have to do hamstring stretches for six months or more before you can put so much as a fingertip on your toes.
The shoulder area has many joints with many muscles, and therefore a lot of tendons and ligaments. Sitting in front of a computer monitor or a television for hours each day makes this part of the body tighten up, often causing a nagging pain.
There are several excellent stretches to prevent tight shoulders.
- Grab the elbow with one hand and gently pull it to the other side of the body. You will feel this in your neck and upper back.
- Bending your head will work out tension and pain in the neck and upper back. First, bend the head to one side, then the other. Next, push the head forward, then retract it by bending the chin to the lower neck.
- Hold your left thigh with both hands, then twist your upper back to the left; repeat the move while twisting to the right.
- Stretch the spine by standing up straight, as high as possible. This will release the tension caused by sitting, which many of us do nearly all the hours we’re awake – from the car to school or the office, to meals, to watching entertainment.
Spend at least an hour every other day stretching, even if it’s just ten minutes at a time throughout the day. Once you see the results, you’ll be very glad. You’ll feel a lot younger than you did with contracted and tight tendons and ligaments.
Adventure Sports Weekly
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