Flexi-time

The life doctor
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Indy Lifestyle Online
MOTIVATION experts say you should make exercise fun. Having never bettered the fun of winning the under-tens sack race on holiday in 1978, I decided it would be a great idea to have a sports day in the park. The eight of us ranged in age from 25 to 33. We were all, we thought, fairly fit. But not fit enough. Rosalind (32) was our first victim. Just seeing Pulp the night before had wiped her out. She left with an impending migraine. Then Mike (33) hurt his knee in the French cricket. My wrist went during the wheelbarrow race. Several shoulders pinged in the "Toss the Plastic Bottle" competition. But our Somme was the relay sprint. Of six competitors, fifty per cent went down with knee problems. "Until your late twenties," says London chiropractor Neil Austin, "you can just start doing sport and get away with it. From about 30 you are at much greater risk of injury if you don't warm up properly. As we get older, the cells which make up our various muscle and ligament tissues undergo a process of atrophy. The body tissues shorten and tighten; you can only delay the process if you work at it."

Monday 1.50pm: Can't move upper thighs. Back v. bad. Simon (30) rings. He can run 6 miles in 45 minutes on the gym treadmill yet after our afternoon's "fun" he is having trouble driving. "I can't change gear," he moans. "Going from third to second hurts my back too much."

Monday 10.30pm: On the sofa. Pain like this is abnormal. Clearly, I have a genetic muscle disorder.

Kathryn Leigh of Health & Fitness assures me that despite being fit, my stiffness after an afternoon of unfamiliar movement is perfectly normal. "The exercise we take as children is naturally a lot more varied and unstructured. As adults exercise is often confined to using the specific muscles in a specific routine. We don't climb trees and sprint to get places. Being flexible won't make you look better in tight clothes," she admits. "But it is essential to keep youthful."

Tuesday 7.30pm: Resolve to take fun more seriously. Go for a game of high-stretch frisbee.

Wednesday 10am: Am taking pain killers for injuries sustained in last night's frisbee session.

The reality is that the older you are, the more important stretching is, the slower you should take it and the harder it will be. For flexibility is like a pension - you can still get it after thirty but it will cost you a lot more. The secret is to build child-style stretches into your life. They needn't last long. Studies have shown that optimum benefits come from holding a stretch for 20 to 40 seconds and repeating four times.

1. IN THE BATHROOM. i) "I stretch my hamstrings while I am doing my teeth," says Leigh. Put one ankle on the bath and bending the supporting knee, stretch the torso forward. ii) "While deciding what to wear, I stretch my calves." Rest hands on bathroom door and feet about a foot away. Then lean body towards the door and take one leg back and then the other, pushing down on the heel. iii) In the bath, take one arm across your chest and pull your elbow in so that the forearm can reach over the opposite shoulder.

2. IN THE LIVING ROOM. i) TV is a perfect time to stretch. Lie on you stomach, put you elbows on the floor and rest your chin in your hands. Lift your legs in the air behind you for extra back stretch. ii) Sit on the floor with your legs in a wide open V-shape and place your IoS far in front, so that, to read the top of every page, you have to stretch forward and pull those inner thighs.

3. IN THE KITCHEN. i) The world is not in children's reach. They are forced to stretch. Mimic by placing common food items on shelves way above your head. ii) When washing up, don't walk to put crockery away, instead twist round from the waist.

The Life Doctor invites questions on health and lifestyle dilemmas. Write to: Eleanor Bailey, Life Doctor, Ganton House, 18-22 Ganton Street, London W1V 1LA

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