DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Stretching before I play any sport has become a must-do for me. However, even with stretching, I pulled a leg muscle last week while playing softball. Is stretching all that great? I thought warm-ups prevented those kinds of injuries. — H.H.
ANSWER: Stretching and warm-ups are two different things.
Warm-ups do what they say. They warm the body. Body temperature rises. With that rise in temperature, muscles, ligaments and tendons also warm. More blood flows to muscles. They become more elastic, less tight. That lessens the chances of a muscle pull/muscle strain.
Warm-ups bestow other dividends. They increase the speed of nerve transmission, which enhances a person’s reaction time.
To warm up, you have to get muscles moving. Jogging in place, riding a stationary bike, calisthenics and, for a pitcher, throwing the ball at reduced speeds are examples of how to warm up. All these exercises are done at a moderate tempo, to the point of breaking a sweat but not to the point of fatigue or breathlessness. Ten to 15 minutes of warming up is enough time.
Let me anticipate another question that comes with warm-up questions. Can you warm up by sitting in a steam room or in a hot tub? Yes, you can, somewhat. That kind of warming is passive warming. It has some benefits, but it’s not as effective as active warm-ups are.
I see golfers, before teeing off, go through a ritual where they hold the club behind their back with the right hand over the right shoulder and the left hand behind the lower back. The golfer then does a few twists. This isn’t warming up. Neither is it stretching. It makes for good audience appeal, but it does nothing for the golfer.
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My tennis coach insists we do wind sprints. I am not a fast runner, but I can run long distances without getting tired. I always come in last in sprints. Doesn’t my long-distance running make up for my lack of sprinting skill? — R.J.
ANSWER: Not exactly, but practice can improve sprinting skills.
Nature has equipped you with a predominance of muscles called slow-twitch. They’re muscles adapted for long, exhausting work. People with fast-twitch muscles are born sprinters, but they are no good at marathon runs.
Fast-twitch muscles depend on a special kind of fuel for their energy. Supplies of the fuel are quickly exhausted. The fuel for slow-twitch muscles is in great abundance. That’s why people with slow-twitch muscles are natural marathoners.
Most sports require a mix of fast and slow running. You can still be the best tennis player without being the fastest sprinter, and you can get better at sprinting through practice.
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I take one blood pressure medicine pill a day. That one pill controls my pressure. I have lost weight and watch my salt intake. I haven’t exercised, because I am afraid to do so with high blood pressure. Is it safe for me to run? — L.M.
ANSWER: It’s more than safe for you to exercise. It’s encouraged. Aerobic exercise is the kind of exercise you want to do.
Aerobic exercise is exercise where large muscles, like the leg muscles, are constantly in motion for a fairly prolonged period of time. Ten minutes is the shortest time interval to qualify as aerobics. When you start out, you won’t be able to do a full 10 minutes. That’s OK. Work at this gradually.
Examples of such exercise are brisk walking, jogging, biking, swimming and dancing.
Your ultimate goal is to do 30 minutes of aerobic exercise a day. You can break those 30 minutes into three 10-minute sessions.
Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Readers may also order health newsletters from www.rbmamall.com.