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lower risk of dangerous diseases and control body weight and shape with a consistent fitness program.

Why is fitness so important to overall health? There are many reasons walking, running, cycling, hiking, swimming and even dancing contribute to a healthier lifestyle. Most are physical, but some like higher self esteem and increased concentration skills are simply positive side effects.

Exercising regularly prevents many health care problems, lowering your risk for dangerous diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and some types of cancers.

Regular movement helps the body to absorb and process the foods we consume, to moderate insulin levels and burn more calories. So exercise is a natural way to control body weight and shape.

Exercise also helps the body to better handle dangerous chemicals like free radicals. And a stronger heart helps bones grow stronger as well, helping the healing process to occur at a faster rate.

Why is it important to stretch?

Muscles, like other tissues in our bodies need to be well circulated. We spend much of our day in the same position, which overuses and fatigues our muscles, making them short and tight. This causes us to form adhesions and unnecessary connective tissue, decreasing circulation and flexibility and increasing aches and pains, and the risk of tendonitis.

Typical muscle groups affected by lack of movement are lower and upper back, neck, forearms and hips and pelvis. Stationary postures and repetitive movements lead to decreased blood circulation, weak and tense muscles and more. Muscles may even start forming trigger points, which is a hyperirritable spot in the skeletal muscle associated with palpable nodules in taut bands of muscle fibers.

What is the solution to these aches, pains and even possible injuries resulting from sustained postures? Stretching. Stretching reduces muscle tension, increases range of motion, increases blood circulation, increases energy levels and decreases the risk of injury.

Why stretch during exercising?

If you begin walking, running or other forms of exercise without stretching, your tight, fatigued muscles will be less capable of performing the skills and movement required. And, lack of flexibility is the root cause or major contributing factor of many injuries. Stretching is the solution to this lack of flexibility. Stretching loosens you up. It also prevents injury by aiding faster recovery and decreasing soreness. Stretching also ensures muscles and tendons are in good working order so they can better handle the stress of your sport or exercise.

A 2007 study by the American College of Sports Medicine found that regular stretching may enhance performance, making people stronger and increasing their endurance. Study author Arnold Nelson, an associate professor of kinesiology at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, said the study found regular stretching does much more than just increase range of motion. It was found that stretching keeps people flexible, improves posture and allows some to avoid injuries and other aches and pains.

Nelson and other experts say people should aim to stretch all major muscle groups at least once a day, few times per week, at times such as after exercising. The study found that those in the stretching program improved their flexibility, increasing by an average 18 percent the distance they could reach. They also increased strength with greater performance on weight machines, and muscular endurance.