Starting With a Stretch

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For many people exercising isn’t just difficult, it’s downright impossible. I’m not referring to the grind of slogging yourself to the gym day after day, fighting against your own will and self-interest in fitness. What I’m talking about are people who literally can’t exercise due to poor health, certain conditions, or various other maladies that leave one more or less inactive.

This way of life is a reality for a number of people, particularly the elderly, who might enjoy being active but physically can’t bring themselves to be active. That puts these people at risk for developing a number of different conditions, including poor heart health caused by their forced sedentary lifestyle.

There could be a way to combat it, though—a recent study published in the American Journal of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation found that an elastic band stretching program had “positive benefits for the actives of daily living and functional fitness of wheelchair-bound older adults with cognitive impairment.” The study looked at a sample of 138 wheelchair-bound adults in from eight different nursing homes in southern Taiwan.

The sample size is relatively small, and focuses on a specific demographic within the elderly community—those with cognitive impairment, or dementia—but the results are nonetheless encouraging. They go along somewhat with the findings of another study in Japan, which involved 26 men in their early-20s, found that their pulse wave velocity, used to asses the participants’ arterial stiffness, was reduced in the extremities during the first half hour of stretching. Though it eventually returned to normal levels, it does indicate the benefits of stretching toward overall fitness.

Stretching itself isn’t terribly hard to do, although some in more sedentary situations might argue that point. Nevertheless, it provides a light outlet of physical activity for those who can’t perform more intense exercises (or simply don’t want to). Perhaps the most appealing aspect of stretching is, unless you feel like buying an elastic band or floor mat, essentially free.

The caveats here are somewhat obvious—30 to 40 minutes of stretching everyday probably won’t help you reach your fitness goals, especially if you live a relatively inactive lifestyle to begin with. But they’re a fine start, especially for someone easing their way back into consistent exercise. Stretching promotes blood flow and like any form of exercise forces us to breathe with a bit more pace, even if it’s only slightly above stasis. If you’re in need of a simple way to inject a little activity, or looking to get back into consistent exercise, static stretching might be the solution. It won’t get you to your goals, but it might help you feel better along the way.