Breathe in, chill out.
As you age, your muscles naturally lose strength and size and can become less supple and stiffer. This can affect the range of movement around your joints, which may lead to stiffness in the muscles and joints. It is this loss of tissue elasticity that can cause muscles and joints to tighten up.
One of the key reasons that muscles lose their natural suppleness and flexibility and can become prone to tears, aches, and pains is being inactive. If the situation is not remedied in time, loss of flexibility could lead to permanent changes in posture and normal muscle function. It is therefore imperative to maintain muscle flexibility as an important component of overall fitness.
So, what exactly is flexibility?
Flexibility can be termed as the ability of your joints and body parts to execute their full range of motion. Flexibility is required in all your day-to-day activities such as bending, walking, lifting, etc. Being flexible allows your muscles to remain mobile. But, like most things, flexibility decreases with age and it is very important to include flexibility exercises in your daily workout regimen. Reduced flexibility can also lead to poor balance. While that’s typically a concern for older adults who are worried about the risk of falling, balance also plays a vital role in sports performance and injury prevention. Simply put, reduced mobility (a result of poor flexibility and decreased strength and muscle mass) can adversely affect daily activities, negatively impact quality of life, and limit you from doing what you love most.
The Benefits of Flexibility
The great news is that flexibility can be improved across ALL age groups with proper flexibility training. In fact, range of motion can be improved with as little as 4 weeks of regular stretching 2 – 3 times per week.
In addition to increasing range of motion and functional capacity, flexibility exercises have been shown to improve posture, stability, and balance. Being flexible reduces the likelihood of injuries, and prevent low back pain.
1. Prevent injury (muscle and disc strains that occur with sudden movements of reaching or lifting)
2. Improve your posture
3. Lengthen your muscles for a longer leaner look
4. Make movement more comfortable, for example playing with your kids becomes easier and less injurious
5. Allow you to feel more free, open, calm, content, and confident from the inside out
6. Spread prana (life force) into your cells, which invigorates your spirit
7. Make any cardio activity a lot lighter and easier
8. Enhance sports performance (i.e. better arm and shoulder extension and rotation for swimmers and basketball players, longer strides for runners, deeper knee bends and hip flexion for skiers) as well as to parry blows that come with strong athletic endeavors
9. Travel more comfortably because of the ability to sit in many different positions and do things with your body in confined spaces you otherwise could not do
10. Need I say get through the Kama Sutra?
There are a number of ways to test your flexibility. One of the most common ways, according to fitness experts, is to check if you can touch your toes while standing up with both legs straight. (You could check out various fitness sites available online for a more exact test.) If you find that you feel stiff, lacking in flexibility, suffering from bad posture or would like to increase your flexibility to improve your normal exercise routine, flexibility training is a must. Aerobic exercises and weight training include rapid and jerky movements, which can lead to joint and muscle fatigue. On the other hand, stretching exercises, yoga, and Pilates consist of gradual movements that can help to achieve greater flexibility.
Being flexible helps to reduce soreness of muscles and improve posture. Stretching for slow gradual movements and holding each position for up to 30 seconds (without pain) helps reduce muscle soreness after exercise. Stretching also improves muscular balance and posture by realigning tissue and thereby reducing the effort it takes to maintain good posture throughout the day.Helps decrease risk of injury and improve physical performance. Flexible joints require less energy to move through a greater range of motion. This decreases your overall risk of injury and increases physical performance as well. Stretching works towards decreasing resistance in muscle tissue during any activity. Helps increase blood and nutrients to tissues. By stretching, you increase the temperature of your tissues and this increases transportation of nutrients and overall circulation. This in turn increases the range of motion and reduces degeneration of your joints.Helps reduce lower back pain. Stretching helps relax muscles. The more flexible your pelvic muscles, hamstrings, hip flexors, and quadriceps, the less stress to your lower back. Helps to enhance enjoyment of other exercise. In addition to decreasing soreness and fatigue of your muscles, stretching also helps relax both mind and body during any activity or exercise.
Ways to Improve Your Flexibility
So, what are some different ways to stay flexible? The best way to maintain flexibility is to stretch regularly. Whatever your age, you must incorporate stretching at least once a day. Even if it is not part of an exercise regimen, there are several simple stretching exercises that you can do at your desk or even in front of the TV. If time is short, focus on stretches that work the larger muscle groups such as shoulders, hamstrings, hips and lower back, and calf muscles. It is these areas that are prone to stiffness and soreness as we grow older.
Flexibility exercises should also be incorporated into your normal exercise program, which may involve resistance (strength) training and cardiovascular exercise (walking, jogging, swimming and cycling). By doing so, you can improve both the quantity and quality of your muscles, joints and overall health.That being said, yoga or pilates are an effective way to complement your exercise routine for greater flexibility. There is a balance of energy between the body and the brain as well as increasing your flexibility, toning your muscles, and improving your lung capacity. All basic yoga poses work towards increasing the flexibility of the body so that it is capable of performing more complicated poses as time goes by. It would be wise therefore to incorporate yoga as a regular part of your workout program.
There are several ways to improve your flexibility. Stretching and exercise help considerably but you also need to keep an eye on your diet and nutrition. Eating junk food and snacking on fatty and sugary snacks can make matters worse. You can promote fitness by combining a balanced diet (full of fresh fruits and vegetables) along with nutritional supplements that support joint health and improve your mobility.
When performing a static stretch:
Take a deep breath and slowly exhale as you gently stretch the muscle to a point of tension
Hold the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds, relax and then repeat the stretch two to four more times
Dynamic stretches are more advanced and should be instructed by a qualified professional
Avoid these stretching mistakes:
Don’t bounce a stretch. Holding a stretch is more effective and there is less risk of injury.
Don’t stretch a muscle that is not warmed up.
Don’t strain or push a muscle too far. If a stretch hurts, ease up.
Don’t hold your breath during the stretch. Continue to breathe normally.
A common problem with inflexibility – can cause serious problems with your hip flexors. See more –
Unlock Your Hip Flexors
A video tutorial: Stretching for Beginners