Exercise and stretching form an integral part of most rehabilitation programs. Exercise helps to increase energy and range of motion, strengthen the muscles, bring blood to the extremities and improve cardiovascular health. Stretching is essential not only for muscles but for the soft tissue as well. Stretching helps to elongate muscles, increase range of motion, provide flexibility, promote healing and prevent future injury. Stretching is recommended in the rehabilitation of many sports injuries, such as plantar fasciitis, shin splints and iliotibial band syndrome, to name a few.
Exercise can be grouped into four categories:
- Aerobic exercise
This is an exercise that increases the body’s use of oxygen. It is usually of moderate intensity and should last between 20-60 minutes. It should raise the individual’s heart rate to 60%-80% of its maximum capability. Examples of aerobic exercise are running, jogging and swimming.
- Anaerobic exercise
This form of exercise relies on intermittent bursts of energy to build strength and muscle. This includes strength training with weights.
- Therapeutic exercise
This is done under the guidance of a physiotherapist or health-care professional to improve the rate of healing in muscles, joints and tendons. This may take the form of passive range of motion (where the physiotherapist moves the body part), active ROM (the individual moves the body part on their own), active assisted ROM (the physiotherapist assists the individual in moving the body part) and resistive exercise, where the patient performs muscle contraction against resistance.
- Stretching exercises
Stretching exercises improve flexibility and help prevent injury. Examples are yoga, tai-chi and basic stretching exercises.
Other benefits of exercise are:
- It produces a feeling of well-being by releasing the neurotransmitters, serotonin and dopamine, which contribute to feelings of euphoria and peace. These neurotransmitters also help increase brain function while performing mental tasks. Many doctors prescribe exercise in place of antidepressants for patients who suffer from depression.
- Exercise can reverse the effects of ageing by slowing the deterioration of muscle, brain and nerve functions. Exercise has been proven to be effective in slowing the rate of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
- Weight loss. Combining an exercise program with proper nutrition is essential to lose weight and keep it off.
As beneficial as exercise is, it does carry some risks:
- Beginning exercise after long periods of inactivity can be harmful. Serious injuries to joints, muscles and tendons may result. The key is to first consult your physiotherapist or doctor and so they can get you started on a level that is right for you.
- Improper exercise techniques may also cause serious injury, for example, stretching while muscles are cold.
- People who suffer from cardiac problems and other illnesses should abstain from certain types of exercise. Check with your doctor should this be the case.