There are a whole host of reasons why people take up karate. Whether or not you do so to improve your fitness and physical form, participation in karate certainly brings with it a range of benefits towards this. For both young and old, karate can enhance your physical fitness in a number of ways. This doesn’t simply aid your performance in karate, but can also be useful in everyday life and is certainly beneficial for promoting your health and well-being. Karate therefore offers a great alternative to the gym, running, or taking part in any other endurance activity. As an enjoyable activity that boosts confidence and promotes social skills and self-discipline, it certainly does have a lot to offer.
Increase cardio-respiratory fitness
Karate requires movements that involve the muscles of the upper and lower limbs, as well as those of the core, significantly increase the muscle’s requirement for oxygen and glucose for respiration, the process that allows the release of energy to power the muscles. These essential components are delivered via the bloodstream and the increased need for them by the muscles triggers an increase in heart rate for faster delivery; this also aids more efficient removal of carbon dioxide, one of the waste products of respiration. The breathing rate also increases to allow oxygen intake to rise and aid the removal of carbon dioxide. As a result cardio-respiratory fitness is improved, allowing enhanced performance during training, but this also helps to achieve a healthy blood pressure and lung function which are beneficial for long-term cardio-respiratory health. A diet rich in heart healthy nutrients that contains oily fish, wholegrains, fruit, vegetables and pulses, as well as the likes of olive and rapeseed oil can further promote the circulation.
Warming up prior to a karate session helps to promote flexibility itself, as does stretching after you have completed your workout. Even on the days when you don’t participate in karate, consistent daily stretching is the best way to enhance your flexibility; though to avoid injury, stretches should always be completed after you have warmed up rather than cold. Improved flexibility aids your performance in karate, enabling you to achieve a greater range of movement to tackle more complex moves and to achieve a higher kick. It also helps to protect you against soft tissue injuries such as torn muscles and ligaments. However, everyday activities that involve bending and stretching also become easier with greater flexibility and this is of particular benefit as we age, as our flexibility naturally declines with age. Low back pain, which is believed to affect 80% of us at some point in our lives, can also be prevented through increased flexibility. Choosing foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin C, D and K can all help to support the joints, aiding greater flexibility.
Even if you don’t have great balance when you start karate, regular participation will soon see you become steadier on your feet. Standing on one leg to perform a kick in multiple directions requires significant balance and even more is required when turning and jumping kicks are performed. However, learning the correct techniques to execute these moves and through practice, improvements in balance can be achieved. Adopting the correct stance, maintaining focus and regular exercises designed to perfect your balance all help to enhance this skill, which not only helps you to become successful in karate, but provides wider benefits. With more control over your balance, day-to-day tasks that require you to reach up and lift objects are easier to complete, but also helps you to avoid injury as you are able to correct your position. By reducing your risk of falls, this also helps to protect older adults from fractures that are otherwise increasingly common as a result of osteoporosis.
Promote gains in strength
Different moves in karate work a variety of muscle groups, offering a whole body workout. Each lift and kick helps to strengthen a group of muscles in your leg, while punches and blocks similarly help to strengthen those muscles in your arms and core. By strengthening your muscles this increases their power, allowing you to exert far more force and perform more powerful moves. The stretching that is integral to a karate session additionally helps to tone and lengthen your muscles to maximize your muscle gains. Developing your muscles again helps in your everyday life, but is especially helpful for anyone wishing to reduce their fat stores, as the creation of extra lean body mass boosts the metabolism. Strength training, particularly when through a weight-bearing activity like karate, also helps to promote an increase in bone density to guard against the loss of bone mass that occurs with age. An increase in muscle size and strength can additionally be supported by consuming a balanced diet rich in lean protein. Sources of protein such as lean meat, fish, eggs and pulses are typically rich in iron, zinc and B vitamins, all of which are necessary to promote tissue repair and muscle-building.
Karate promotes both cardiovascular stamina – the ability of our heart to supply our tissues with oxygen during sustained activity – and our muscle stamina – the capacity of our muscles to continue for the duration of the activity and its intensity. By enhancing our cardio-respiratory fitness and our muscle strength, this naturally helps us to increase our stamina, but specific training drills can be used to further build on our stamina. Being able to last longer during training allows you to push yourself harder to achieve greater results, further increasing the benefits that can be gained through participation in karate.
By Claire Morris