& Joannie Dobbs Wednesday,
Easy stretch to
HAVE you ever watched how palm trees flex and bend in strong winds? These trees remain unharmed by rather violent movement and make a great visual illustration of the value of being flexible.
Most adults experience increased muscle stiffness with aging.
However, scientists have found stiffness does not seem to be caused by aging. Reduced physical activity or specific health conditions such as arthritis cause the body to become less flexible. The loss of flexibility is not an inevitable consequence of aging. With proper regular stretching, a person can maintain or even improve flexibility at all ages.
Many serious athletes include some degree of stretching in their exercise programs to decrease injuries. Maintaining normal flexibility is an important part of fitness.
Listed below are The President's Council for Physical Fitness and Sports Research Digest guidelines for stretching to maintain flexibility:
Stretch at least three times per week, preferably every day.
Stretch slowly and easily with low levels of force.
Hold stretches comfortably for 15 to 30 seconds and repeat each stretch 4 to 5 times. Stretch after moderate or vigorous physical activity.
Only stretch muscles that have been thoroughly warmed up by physical activity, otherwise stretching before physical activity may actually weaken muscles and decrease some types of exercise performance.
If you're new to stretching, find a fitness professional who can provide guidance on proper technique. Take it slow and work into it gradually.
Connect to http://www.indiana.edu/~preschal/ and search on "stretch" for detailed information on flexibility fitness.
Some nutritional considerations for staying flexible include those related to joint health. Joints depend on a normal supply of all nutrients, therefore the first most important factor is a good balanced diet. There is additional evidence that adequate intake of antioxidant nutrients, like vitamins C and E, and beta carotene, are especially important for joints. There also is preliminary research indicating that the dietary supplement glucosamine may aid the flexibility of joints.
Vitamin C seems to be an especially important nutrient for joint health. In addition to its antioxidant function, it is essential for making specific proteins that are part of joint cartilage. One study found that antioxidant nutrients did not necessarily prevent osteoarthritis from developing, but did slow down the progression of joint problems.
Dietary supplements of glucosamine and chondroitin are marketed to promote joint health. Two or three years ago, most medical research reports on these supplements included statements like, "further research is needed before glucosamine can be recommended." Recent articles are making statements like, "some degree of efficacy appears probable." One study stated "glucosamine sulfate is shown to be as good as ibuprofen for osteoarthritis of the knee."
Many health professionals are hesitant to recommend antioxidant or glucosamine supplements to increase flexibility. Without knowing the possible long-term side-effects or interactions with other drugs, health professionals tend to err on the side of caution.
Remember, brittle things break easily!
Alan Titchenal, Ph.D., C.N.S. and Joannie Dobbs, Ph.D., C.N.S.
are nutritionists in the Department of Human Nutrition, Food and Animal Sciences,
College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, UH-Manoa.
Dr. Dobbs also works with the University Health Service
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