We all remember the days when we were younger, running, playing tag, climbing trees and so many other physical activities just for fun. Our flexibility certainly isn’t what is used to be as children. Many adults, even under the age of 60 have flexibility issues, but this increases after midlife.
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Why do I have less flexibility now, as an older adult?
As we age, our joints naturally get stiffer, leading us to do less, which actually limits flexibility and mobility. While there are medical conditions that can decrease flexibility, one of the major factors is movement. The majority of stiffness and lack of flexibility in a healthy person comes from the lack of activity which creates a stiffness in the tissue and surrounding muscles in the body.
When we get older, we spend more time indoors, at our desks, on the sofa, in our home and these situations do not require us to be physically fit or flexible. The good news is that when movement is increased, even in an individual who has a “limiting” condition such as arthritis, frozen shoulder or fibromyalgia, flexibility CAN be developed.
Why is flexibility important?
When a person is flexible, they have better balance, they are less prone to injury and can have less bodily pain, even in patients who have an underlying condition. One of the most common ways to increase mobility is stretching. Stretching can help to release muscle tension and soreness. It can also positively affect blood circulation, balance, muscle control and help to reduce the risk of injury.
4 Ways to Increase Flexibility
Get moving! The easiest and most important piece is to move. It may sound simple, but increasing your daily movement in a safe way is the number one way to increase mobility. Walking is a perfect way to start! A study was done by Buccola & Stone, which indicated: “An improvement of flexibility of the trunk and of the lower limbs was seen in people, between the age of 60 and 70, with their participation in a walking and jogging program that lasted 14 weeks.”
Stretching – Of course, stretching is what most people think of when they think “flexibility”. Stretching can be done by any person, regardless of age and condition. There are many resources online to show the best stretches for every age. There are even simple stretches that can be done with a partner (such as a Home Health Aide or family caregiver). An easy Google search of “stretches for older adults” will provide you with many ideas.
Gentle exercise – Gentle exercise includes activities such as Yoga, Pilates and Tai Chi. In these days of Covid-reopening, you may not choose to take a class at a gym, but there are other terrific options. Online classes, YouTube videos or even outdoor classes (for those living in the South) are a wonderful way to get started. Slow, gentle movement works wonders, even though it may not feel like it is. Exercise doesn’t have to be aggressive to be working! The subtle movements in Yoga, Pilates and Tai Chi will help to increase balance, coordination, strength and possibly even pain-reduction.
Swimming – Swimming can be an effective and enjoyable way to get moving. On it’s own, it may not increase flexibility as quickly as some of the other methods, but does wonders for lengthening the muscles in an environment that supports the joints. Even walking or performing range-of-motions exercises in a heated pool has various benefits, including relaxing muscle tissue and decreasing pain while increasing movement and mobility.
There are so many benefits to be gained from increasing flexibility. By consistently incorporating one of the above mentioned activities into your life, you’ll begin to reap some of these rewards. Of course, before beginning any exercise program, please speak with your doctor.