When I was a young girl I desperately wanted to be able to do the splits. My mother told me to everyday go down into the split position just as far as my body would let me and eventually I would make it all the way down to the floor. It worked. When you stretch every day you loosen your muscles and gain flexibility.
Even our eyesight isn’t immune, the muscles in our eyes tighten as we age and that is a major contributing factor to needing reading glasses.
As we age we lose the flexibility we had when we were young. This stiffness that encroaches as we age not only can lead to injuries but also can impact our everyday lives.
What is flexibility?
Flexibility is defined as: capable of being bent without injury or damage. A good synonym is limber. Think of a gymnast and how limber they are. The opposite of flexible is stiff or rigid. There seems to be a natural stiffness that creeps into us as we age.
A newborn baby is usually moving or asleep. They wiggle to develop and strengthen the muscles they will need to be able to crawl, walk, reach for toys, and play. Ever been exasperated because a little toddler just won’t sit still? It isn’t natural they want to move and explore. Their bodies are amazing and can accomplish so many things.
Even into our 20’s most of us could count on our bodies to respond when needed. We could play sports, stay up late and still function the next morning without additional aches and pains.
But as we continue to age our lives become more sedentary and our muscles are not as flexible as they used to be our muscles lose their full range of motion. We are losing the limberness we once knew. When we do strain our bodies to do something new we may pay for it with sore muscles for days.
Are you experiencing: joint stiffness, arthritis, osteoporosis, general aches and pains?
If you are you may need to work on your flexibility. And the good news is just like when I wanted to be able to do the splits, stretching every day works and you WILL increase your flexibility.
Let’s establish a base line of how flexible you are right now. The HealthStatus fitness assessment has the perfect measuring tool. Here are the specific instructions to determine your flexibility:
Trunk Flexibility Test
You will need a 7″ strip of tape and yardstick for this procedure. Place the tape on the floor. Sit down on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you. Place your heels on the near edge of the tape about 5″ inches apart. Now place the yardstick on the floor between your heels with the 1″ measure closest to you and the 15″ mark on the same edge of the tape as your heels (the tape and the yardstick make a + shape, your heels touch each end of the tape). Get on the floor in the described position with the tape, your heels, and the yardstick aligned. Slowly reach forward with both of your hands as far as you can reach, hold the position for a moment then record the inches number your fingertips reach on the yardstick. DO NOT jerk forward to get extra distance. Repeat a total of 3 times. Write the greatest number you could reach here ________ this is your Flexibility Number.
Now with this number we have established a current baseline.
If you want to take the entire fitness assessment, go to healthstatus.com, click on the health assessment tab, click on the fitness assessment. This assessment provides an overall picture of your general level of fitness. All assessments are free.
Activities to keep us flexible:
Dance around your house. A great song came on the other day when I was grocery shopping. My body just started moving to the beat right then while pushing the grocery cart. It finally dawned on me that I was in the grocery store, so I settled down. Rather than be embarrassed I should have considered that all that movement was good for my body and my health and kept right on going. Think about how incredibly flexible dancers are.
Take up yoga. There are some great things to love about yoga. It is a low cost work out solution. Easy to do right in your own home you don”t even need to buy a mat unless you want to. No special clothes are required. Yoga is stretching and maintaining poses. It will increase flexibility, improve blood flow and strengthen your core.
Pilates is also a great stretching work out. And again there are group classes you can join or you can do this right in your own home.
Get some exercise bands. This will add needed resistance to your stretching movements really working those muscles.
Skip instead of walking. Why should kids have all the fun? This is easier than running and may just bring out the kid in you. Can you even remember how?
Buy a foam roller. A foam roller is just what it says it is a large 36 inches long roll of foam about 7 inches in diameter, like a large rolling pin. You literally put your body on the roller on the floor and roll out your back or lie on your side with your thigh on top of the roller on the floor and roll out your legs. You can roll your hamstrings etc. This feels great.
Don’t forget the ever simple toe touch. Can you touch your toes? Work on it every day and it won”t be long before you can touch your toes again.
Just stretch. Any activity where you stretch will help you be more flexible. And just 15 minutes a day and you will be more flexible in no time. Try and hold each stretch 30 seconds no more than 60 seconds. Stretching rarely causes you to sweat so you can exercise just about any time. Find a list of stretches that works all muscle groups and do them after your shower before you dress in the morning or during your favorite TV show. You only need 15 minutes.
JUST THINK MOVE, MOVE, AND MOVE!
If you feel pain, stop what you are doing. Your body communicates to your brain by sending a pain signal. Continue to exercise and stretch; just don’t push yourself to where you feel pain.
Once you have been stretching for a few weeks. Go back and take the Trunk Flexibility Test again. Has your score improved? Could you reach farther? Now that you have had success, continue to keep stretching as a part of your health and wellness program.
Improved flexibility helps in your everyday life. Need to tie those shoes, good thing you can still bend over. Backing out of your driveway you need to be able to turn your head. Need to reach your special glasses off of the top shelf in the cupboard. Being able to move is critical to your independence.
My grandfather became more and more sedentary as he aged. Toward the end of his life he went from bed to his chair with very little activity in-between. He was having trouble walking and keeping his balance. He started a physical therapy regime riding a stationary bike. His walking improved immensely. The more he moved and exercised the better he was able to move in general.
This is the lesson we all must learn. We need to keep moving in order to be able to keep moving. Let’s be aware of the importance in maintaining our flexibility. Remember we want to be able to bend and move without breaking.