Exercise isn’t all about buffing up at the gym or having fun playing sports. As you get older, whether you exercise or not could very well determine whether you will be able to maintain an independent lifestyle. At fifty your focus begins to change and you start to feel older. You still look good and feel pretty good, but your body has reached its peak and the changes associated with aging start to kick in, ready or not.
One of the first things that you will notice is that you aren’t as flexible as you used to be. A decrease in flexibility isn’t something that you can see, as it sneaks up on you rather gradually. Individual differences make it hard to measure and it is difficult to make comparisons between yourself and someone else. It is human nature to be amazed and a bit jealous when we watch dancers or gymnasts jump do amazing feats, while we struggle to touch our toes. The good news is that flexibility is not necessarily related to fitness, and you will probably be surprised to learn that extreme flexibility can actually make a person more prone to injury.
What is flexibility anyway? Flexibility is the ability of the body to bend without breaking. It is what makes your body pliable. That makes sense doesn’t it? It is flexibility that lets your joints bend repeatedly without injury. If you don’t think this is important it is time to think again, especially if you have noticed that it isn’t quite as easy to turn your neck to look over your shoulder as you back out of the driveway.
We all lose flexibility as we age. Loss of flexibility happens when our collagen structure begins to change. Collagen is a protein that is found in connective tissue (skin, muscle sheath, bone, tendons, ligaments and cartilage). As you age the collagen fibers begin to stick together making the connective tissues less elastic, which means that your ability to move easily is compromised and you may experience a decrease in basic range of motion. Flexibility also decreases as a result of inactivity, meaning that you just stiffen up. If you stretch your muscles, ligaments, and joint capsules regularly you may be able to avoid some of these problems
Flexibility exercises help to keep your body limber by stretching the muscles and tissues that hold your body’s structure in place. Staying limber not only helps your balance but it makes it easy to perform daily activities. Physical Therapist recommend stretching exercises to help people recover from injuries and to prevent injuries from happening in the first place.
Guess what? You don’t need to be as flexible as a dancer or a gymnast. Your goal is simply to concentrate on maintaining a full range of motion. This means things like bending your neck, looking over your shoulder, bending over to pick up something, walking with a longer sturdy stride, or being able to rotate your spine. I think you will agree that in the long run this is pretty important stuff. Flexibility is something that we take for granted until notice that we feel stiff and sore a good share of the time. Well welcome to my world!
How do you improve your flexibility without hurting yourself? Stretching exercises give you the freedom to do the things you need to do. You can progress in your stretching exercises but never to the point of pain. It is important to stretch regularly. Warm up first. Do your stretching exercises after you’re your strength exercises, or at the very least do some easy walking and arm pumping first. Relax as you hold a stretch and do it slowly and steadily, never bounce. Focus on the part of the body you are stretching and breathe into the stretches. If just standing against the wall and stretching is boring for you please check out my articles on Oxycise, Yoga and Tai Chi. If you experience anything more than just mild stiffness it would be a good idea to consult your physician and a physical therapist to be tested and to get a true feeling for your flexibility. They will devise a program that will be most effective for you. Flexibility training must be done regularly. Come on now. We can do this!
Sources of information:
Moffat , Marilyn, PT, PhD, FAPTA. Age-Defying Fitness (2006)
Raugh, Randy, MPT. Prime For Life (2009)