Have you noticed the difference in how men or women who are around sixty year old and young adults walk? It is often obvious, and it can make it easy to differentiate between younger and older individuals, even when just seeing them from behind. This is entirely due to our joints’ mobility, which gives young adults a graceful form, allows them to easily climb stairs, and coordinate their muscle groups properly, so that they can rush down them just as easily, without ever tripping. And yet some octogenarians can do just as well, and even better than the young. What is their secret? Daily stretching of the muscles responsible for walking and our gait! Stretching is the key factor for a youthful and slender appearance; it can help you lose fat and reach the limits of your muscular capacity during exercise. Furthermore, when you are able to increase the length of your stride, your center of gravity improves and you are less likely to stumble or lose balance, and can therefore avoid any accidents. Stretching improves your daily life, from walking your dog, to taking out the trash, to a mad dash to catch your plane!
There are different stretching methods, such as yoga or Pilates.
Yoga was developed in India over several millennia, and is a method of self-development, combined with a spiritual practice. It has several dimensions, the main ones being the following: devotion (bhakti yoga), selfless action (karma yoga), knowledge (jnana yoga), health and concentration through a healthy lifestyle and postures (hatha-yoga). Yoga classes are most often based on the latter dimension, hatha-yoga. Its role in the traditional spiritual path is to discipline the mind and maintain the body in optimal health, for the individual to be able to meditate better and longer. The tools of hatha-yoga are breathing exercises and over 1 000 postures. The postures are made up of stretching, bending and twisting motions, which improve spine flexibility and act on every organ and gland. Holding these postures also trains the mind and develops your perseverance and concentration, while also procuring the benefits of meditation.
Pilates (named after its inventor, Joseph Pilates) enables us to restore balance to our body’s muscles, by focusing on the core muscles which are involved in posture and support the spine. The goal of its exercises is to strengthen the muscles which are too weak and relax those which are too tight. Movements are executed while taking into account our breathing, proper spinal alignment, as well as more generally maintaining good posture. This method emphasizes properly balanced strength. Tense muscles exert tensile stress on the surrounding joints; as the body’s muscles mainly function in antagonist (opposing) pairs, if one muscle is pulling too hard in one direction, it is very likely that its antagonist will, conversely, be stretched out and/or weak. If we want to correct these forces, we therefore need to correct antagonist muscle groups. This also allows us to balance our posture.