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What are the Benefits of an Active Lifestyle?

In order to understand the key benefits of a healthy lifestyle it is firstly important to understand what the definition of a healthy lifestyle is.

The definition provided by Edexcel states,

“An active, healthy lifestyle is a lifestyle that contributes positively to physical, mental and social wellbeing and which includes regular exercise and physical activity”.

The key factors that contribute to an active and healthy lifestyle include diet, exercise, sleep, and a positive mental attitude. All of these factors are equally important and therefore focussing merely on 1 or 2 of these points will not result in you living that lifestyle.



You wouldn’t put diesel in a vehicle that is designed to use petrol as it is the wrong fuel and would lead to the vehicle breaking down. The same can be said about the food that we consume as this is the fuel for our bodies. There is no one type of food that provides the nutrients necessary for a good diet and therefore it is necessary to eat a variety of food types in order to consume these essential nutrients.

In order to achieve a healthy and balanced diet you should consider the following points;

1. Eat at least five portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables a day. This includes not only fresh fruit and vegetables but also frozen, canned, dried and juiced.

2. The best starchy carbohydrates to consume are high fibre and wholegrain varieties of pasta and rice. This is due to the fact that they contain more fibre and nutrients and are slower to digest which in turn leads to a “fuller feeling” for longer.

3. Protein is provided from a variety of sources and includes fish, eggs and meat. It is vital when selecting the meet product to also consider the fat content and the method of cooking it.

4. You can survive for 3 days without water and 3 weeks without food. Therefore it is vital that you stay hydrated. Water regulates your body temperature, lubricates your joints, transports nutrients around the body and is essential for good digestion. You should aim to drink 6 to 8 glasses of fluid per day. However this amount will need to be increased if engaging in physical activity or when living in hot climates. Although it is considered by many that this count should be restricted to water it can also include lower fat milk, sugar free drinks, tea and coffee.

5. The recommended calorie intake per day for a female is 2000 whilst in a man it is 2500. It is vital that this is adjusted to suit your lifestyle. A person who is more physically active will need to consume more calories.

6. Avoid smoking. Not only does it cause about 90% of lung cancer it is also responsible for causing cancer in many other parts of the body. It also damages your heart and blood circulation which can lead to coronary heart disease, heart attacks, strokes and damaged blood vessels. Smoking also damages your lungs leading to illnesses such as emphysema and pneumonia.

7. Avoid drinking alcohol. Although this is the best advice many people would consider this unrealistic and some would even say it is not necessary. It is however vital to limit your alcohol intake. In order to keep the health risks associated with alcohol consumption to a minimum men and women are advised to drink no more than 14 units of alcohol a week. This amount should be spread over the week. It is common knowledge that excessive alcohol can lead to various diseases such as high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and liver disease. What many people forget is the increased calorie intake when consuming alcohol.



It is important to have a regular sleep pattern. However it is very difficult to achieve this when things such as work, family and social life can restrict your amount of available sleep time.

Your internal clock (circadian rhythm) functions best when you have a regular pattern. If you have irregular patterns such as sleeping in at weekends or working shifts then your internal clock is out. Not only can this lead to being not fully rested but it can lead to other health issues including obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.

There is no set minimum amount of sleep required as everyone is different. However NHS guidelines suggest that an adult should have 7 to 9 hours, a child should have 9 to 13 hours and toddlers/babies should have 12 to 17 hours.


Regular Exercise

Doctor Nick Cavill states, “If exercise were a pill it would be one of the most cost effective drug ever invented”.

It is medically proven that by undertaking regular exercise you reduce your risk of developing the following common illnesses;

1. Coronary heart disease and stroke by 35%.
2. Type 2 diabetes by 50%
3. Colon cancer by 50%
4. Breast cancer by 20%
5. Osteoarthritis by 83%
6. Depression by 30%
7. Dementia by 30%

Most importantly however is the reduction in the risk of early death by 30%.
Various studies have produced what is considered is the acceptable amount of daily physical activity. Some state that 20 minutes of vigorous activity a week is sufficient however NHS guidelines recommend 150 minutes of exercise per week.


Positive Mental Attitude



It is considered that people who have a positive mental attitude tend to live healthier lifestyles through undertaking more physical activity and following a healthier diet.

It is difficult to prove exactly what the benefits are however it is suggested that they include;

1. Increased life span
2. Lower rates of depression
3. Lower levels of distress
4. Greater resistance to common cold
5. Better psychological and physical well-being
6. Better cardiovascular health and a reduced risk of death from related diseases
7. Better coping skills during hardships and times of distress.

Foam Rolling

Foam Rolling

If muscles are not taken care of properly we can experience loss of flexibilty, adhesions and painful movement. This in turn will have a detrimental effect on our fitness and physical well being.

Stretching alone is not always enough to release tight muscles. Imagine stretching a bungee cord with a knot in it. The unknotted parts of the cord stretch whilst the knotted part remains unaltered.

Foam rolling can break up or relax tight muscles and adhesions (knots) formed between muscle layers and their surrondings. This can lead to the return of normal blood flow and better muscle function.

One study into the benefits of foam rolling concluded that using a roller not only increased the range of movement of the muscles as much as static stretching, but also improved the isometric strength and jumping ability more than static stretching.

How Do You Use a Foam Roller?

• Having identified a muscle or muscle group that requires treatment apply pressure to that area using the foam roller and your body weight.
• Roll no more than one inch per second and when you find an area that is tight or painful pause on that area for a few seconds and relax as much as possible. You must ensure that you roll the entire length of the muscle. The muscle will slowly release and after 5 to 30 seconds the discomfort or pain should reduce.
• This is not a test for how much pain you can take so do not push to the point of excessive soreness.
• Roll the muscle 3 to 4 times during each session.
• If an area is too painful to apply direct pressure then work on the surrounding areas and gradually work to loosen the entire area.

How Will You Feel After Foam Rolling?

Expect to feel a bit sore the day after a foam rolling session. This is normal and there is no need for concern. Just as you should following a normal sports massage it is important to rehydrate by drinking plenty of water. Allow between 24 and 48 hours before foam rolling the same muscle again.

Do Not…

• Use a foam roller on your lower back. This area of the body is more vulnerable than your upper back and could end up increasing rather than alleviating your back pain.
• Roll over joints including the knees. This could result in damage to the bony attachments.
• Use a foam roller on your neck. You should refer any neck issues to an appropriately trained health care professional as this area can be more sensitive.
• Roll a fresh injury. Allow 48 hours to pass enable the acute phase of injury repair to occur. Any foam rolling during this phase is likely to cause further damage and increase the recovery time.

Using a Roller to Massage a Calf

Using a Roller to Massage a Calf Adding Extra Pressure Using Another Leg

Using a Roller to Massage the Upper Back

Do You Stretch Properly?

Do You Stretch Properly?

Part of my role as a sports massage therapist is to provide advice on stretching techniques in order to alleviate muscle tightness and tension and assist in injury rehabilitation.
In order to provide the best advice on stretching I began to study more about this subject and began to realise that I don’t stretch properly myself. Generally I will do some post exercise stretches specific to the activity I had been doing. However it was rare that I did pre exercise stretches and those stretches I did were wrong.
Today I am going to talk about the basics of stretching and provide you with some knowledge and ideas that you can include in your training programme.

What Are The Benefits of Stretching?

In order to realise the importance of stretching we need to understand the benefits that can be achieved.

1. Improved Range of Motion
By increasing our range of movement we are increasing the distance our limbs can move before damage occurs to the muscles and tendons.

2. Increased Power
By increasing our muscle length we are increasing the distance over which they are able to contract. This can increase muscle power, athletic ability, muscle control and balance.

3. Reduced Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS).
The day after a hard run or gym session it is common for the muscles to be tight, sore and stiff. This is caused by minute tears within the muscle fibres, blood pooling and the accumulation of waste products such as lactic acid. Stretching during the cool down process can help alleviate this soreness by lengthening the muscle fibres, increasing blood circulation and removing waste products.

4. Reduced Fatigue
For every muscle in the body there is an opposite or opposing muscle (antagonist). If the opposing muscles are more flexible then the working muscles do not have to exert as much force against them. Therefore each movement of the working muscles actually take less effort.
Other benefits of stretching include better posture, body awareness and coordination, increased energy and better relaxation and stress relief.

Types of Stretching

1. Static Stretching
Static stretching is where you place your body in a position where the muscle to be stretched is under tension. To start with muscle to be stretched and the opposing muscle and relaxed. Then slowly the body is moved to increase the tension on the muscle being stretched. This position should then be held for a minimum of 20 seconds.

2. Passive Stretching
This is very similar to static stretching however another person or apparatus is used to provide a further stretch. Due to the extra force applied to the muscle this form of stretch is slightly more hazardous than static stretching.

3. Active Stretching
This form of stretching does not use any aid or assistance from an external force. It uses only the strength of the opposing muscles to generate a stretch with the target muscles. An example of this is where you raise one leg straight out in front as high as possible and then maintain that position without any assistance. The position should only be held for 10 to 15 seconds.

4. Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) Stretching
This is an advanced form of stretching that requires both the stretching and contraction of the muscle group being targeted. The muscle is positioned so that the muscle is under tension. The individual then contracts the stretched muscle for 5 to 6 seconds while a partner or object applies sufficient resistance to inhibit movement. The muscle is then relaxed and a controlled stretch is applied for about 30 seconds. After a recovery of about 30 seconds this can be repeated 2 to 4 times.

5. Isometric Stretching
This is a form of stretching similar to PNF but the contractions are held for longer periods of time. An example of an isometric stretch is where the individual stands upright and leans forward against a wall and places one foot as far from the wall as is comfortable ensuring the heel remains flat on the ground. Whilst in this position contract the calf muscle as if trying to push the wall down for 10 to 15 seconds. Then relax the muscle for at least 20 seconds before repeating the process 2 to 5 times.

6. Dynamic Stretching
Dynamic stretching are stretches that are performed with movement. This is where a controlled, soft bounce or swinging motion is used to move a particular body part to the limit of its range of movement. At no point during this form of stretching should the body part be forced past the joint’s normal range of motion.

Rules for Safe Stretching

1. Warm Up Prior to Stretching
A correct warm up should consist of a light physical activity for about 10 minutes and result in a light sweat.

2. Stretch Before and After Exercise
Stretching before exercise has a totally different purpose to stretching after exercise.

3. Stretch Only to the Point of Tension
When muscles are stretched to the point of pain the body employs a stretch reflex to protect the muscles and tendons and prevents the muscles from being stretched.

4. Stretch All Major Muscles and Their Opposing Muscle Groups
Just because a particular sport may place a lot of emphasis on the legs does not mean that you should neglect the muscles of the upper body in the stretching routine.

5. Stretch Gently and Slowly
This will help the muscles relax and thereby prevent muscle tears or strains that can be caused by rapid jerky movements.

6. Breathe Slowly and Easily While Stretching
This will help to relax the muscles, promote blood flow and increase the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the muscles.

So When Do We need To Stretch?

Most people know there is a need to stretch after exercise but there are other times when we can stretch.

1. Warming up – dynamic stretching is the most effective. The purpose of stretching before exercise is to help prevent injury. The muscles and tendons are lengthened which increases our range of movement.

2. Cooling down – static, passive or PNF stretching is best. The purpose of post exercise stretching is to aid the repair and recovery of muscles and tendons.

3. To improve range of motion – PNF and active isolated stretching.

4. For rehabilitation – a combination of PNF, isometric ad active stretching will provide the best results.

What is Ice Therapy?

Why use Ice/Cold Therapy (Cryotherapy)

Image may contain: one or more people and people sitting

There are many different articles that discuss the use of ice therapy to treat sore, tired muscles after exercise and also to treat soft tissue injuries. However there are many differing views not only in relation to when to use ice but also its’ effectiveness in reducing pain and assisting in the recovery process.

The acronym PRICE is the most accepted method of providing treatment to soft tissue injuries. In fact this is followed by many sports injury professionals and sports persons themselves.

Protection – by stopping movement of the injured area you are protecting it from further damage.
Rest – muscles are more likely to suffer further injury and therefore resting the effected muscles is vital.
Ice – This should be applied within 48 hours after sustaining a soft tissue injury.
Compression – this will reduce the likelihood of swelling and prevent the build-up of fluids.
Elevation – if possible raise the affected area above the level of the heart as this will allow any fluid to drain away from the area.

For ice to be an integral part of the accepted first aid treatment for soft tissue injury it must therefore be accepted that it does provide some aide in the recovery process.

The followers of ice therapy also believe that it helps to combat micro trauma (small tears) in the muscle fibres caused by intense exercise. It should be noted that ice should only be used at the end of a period of exercise and not part way through.

What are the effects of ice/cold therapy?

Ice therapy narrows the blood vessels (vasoconstriction) which slows the flow of blood to the injured area. This in turn reduces the build-up of fluid and consequently swelling. It can also numb nerve endings which helps to reduce pain.

How to use ice therapy.

Apply an ice pack to the injured area at least 3 times a day. As a minimum it is suggested that this ice sessions should take place in the morning, afternoon and about 1 hour before bed. However better results are more likely to be achieved if you treat the area every 2 to 3 hrs whilst you are awake for the first 2 days after the injury.
You should also apply ice after any prolonged activity or vigorous exercise.
Never place ice directly against the skin. You must ensure that the ice pack is wrapped in a cloth to prevent ice burn.
Apply the ice pack firmly against the injured area for 15 to 20 minutes. Allow at least 15 minutes before reapplying the ice pack to allow the area to return to normal temperature.

When not to use Ice therapy.

If you are suffering with loss of sensation, broken or ulcerated skin, suffer with vascular disease, are hyper-sensitive to ice or are diabetic you should refrain from using ice therapy.
Do not apply ice packs to the left shoulder if suffering with a heart condition and do not use ice packs around the front or side of the neck.

Please note this is not medical advice. If you are suffering with pain or other health related issues you should consider seeking the advice of an appropriately trained health care professional.