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Becoming physically active is about incorporating exercise into our daily routine (talked about later) and increasing cardiovascular fitness, strength, endurance and flexibility. This section is about how to start exercising to improve fitness.

There are some basic principles of exercise which will ensure that you gain the maximum benefit from your exercise and that you exercise safely. These concern how often you should exercise, for how long and how difficult it should be. Exercise should also include a warm up, a cool down and stretching of the muscles that you are going to use. Furthermore, having some understanding about exercise will make it more enjoyable and help keep you motivated.

Warming up and cooling down

Depending on your exercise, your warm up and cool down could be the same activity, but performed at a less intense level. For example, if you planned a walk, walk at a slower pace for your warm up and cool down.

Warming up
  • increases the blood flow to the muscles;
  • decreases the chances of injuries to the muscles or joints;
  • should be for 5 - 10 minutes at a very low intensity.
Cooling down
  • prevents blood pooling in your extremities, e.g. your legs;
  • should be about 5 minutes, gradually reducing intensity level.

Stretching

You should stretch your muscles after your warm-up and cool-down. Stretching is very important: it reduces risk of injury and stiffness, makes your muscles more able to perform the exercise and improves flexibility. A common mistake is to stretch muscles before they are warm. You must warm up first, then stretch your muscles. Stretching cold muscles could injure them. Stretch the muscles you are going to use in your exercise.
  • Breathe in and slowly and gently elongate the muscle you are stretching until you feel tension. Breathe out. (If the tension is uncomfortable find a tension which is comfortable, but aim to feel the stretch). Maintain slow, deep breaths. Hold for 10 to 30 seconds. Slowly and gently come out of the stretch. Never bounce at any stage and stop immediately if you feel pain.
  • When you stretch properly, the longer you hold the stretch, the less you will feel it. If you do begin to feel your muscle tighten, relax it.
Source:  www.medicine.ox.ac.uk

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