Getting older has many benefits. Knowledge, experience, increased skillsets to name but a few. One of the biggest burdens of aging however, is the reduced flexibility which we inevitably experience in our bodies. This is one of many reasons why we should be dedicating more time to focusing on both preserving and improving our flexibility.
With in excess of 50 million people reportedly suffering from arthritis in the US alone, the need to continue working on our flexibility is brought sharply into focus. There are a variety of instances we can identify where improved flexibility can benefit our lives if we spend just a little extra time to focus on it.
Reduced Risk of Injury
Lack of flexibility in the muscles means an inevitable stiffness and buildup of tension. This increased tension, invariably leads to a higher risk of sustaining injury. This is true of all of us, the decreased flexibility means that our muscles and joints will be more rigid. This rigidity gives our body less ability to absorb impacts during competitive sports or exercise, which can lead to increased levels of injuries.
While there is contentious debate currently as to the impact of stretching on reducing injuries, research still suggests that the effect is a largely positive one.
Improved Joint Health
The increased flexibility which can be provided through even basic stretching exercises at the beginning of a day can have a profoundly positive impact on joint health. This is especially beneficial to two groups of individuals: Those who suffer from chronic conditions such as arthritis and those who are on the path to recovery from injury.
For the former group, improved flexibility can greatly assist in relieving reducing pain in the joints. Performing stretches to help boost flexibility will increase blood flow to a particular joint, in turn, the range of motion is increased and levels of pain reduced.
Similarly, in individuals returning from injury, this increased blood flow and resultant improvement in range of motion, make stretching to improve flexibility imperative.
Reduced Back and Muscle Pain
Exercise is an effective in treating your back pain in a variety of ways. The first is that through stretching, you are loosening the muscles. Removing this tension allows for greater freedom of movement which reduces back pain significantly. Stretching exercises such as trunk rotations are widely used among golfers prior to starting a round in order to loosen the muscles and relieve and stiffness.
Research shows that particularly lower back complaints are among the most common injuries among aging segments of the population. A key element in the rehabilitation process when returning from injury and also in order to maintain a strong back is stretching to increase muscles strength. Strengthening the muscles help to make them more robust, preventing future injury and also protecting tendons and ligament damage.
Increased Range of Motion
A natural consequence of improved flexibility is an increased range of motion. This is made possible due to the removal of tension from muscles and joints. Increased range of motion helps greatly enhance our lives, especially in aging. One of the most common ailments as we age is a decrease in mobility. Through increasing our range of motion and flexibility, we can be best placed to preserve this mobility.
Also, for those returning from injury, performing flexibility exercises to improve range of motion is key. In the rehabilitation stages following an injury, it is common to perform a variety of stretches in order to regain motion and get us back to full fitness. To further assist and boost flexibility as well as provide protection, there are a variety of support braces available to supplement the time we spend improving flexibility.
Tightness in muscles, predominantly in the back area, can be a problem which, if left unresolved over time, can have a negative impact on posture. This can be quite simply resolved by engaging in daily stretching routines.
With tensions relieved and muscles relaxed, there is no excess buildup of pressure to negatively impact spinal alignment. This pressure and poor posture is usually the result of years of bad habits in how we sit or position our bodies. With an extra set of stretches daily, we can begin to make progress on rectifying the problem of poor posture which can plague us in advancing years.
For the sake of just a few extra minutes daily, the rewards which we can reap for years to come through improved flexibility are fantastic. It is often an element of health and fitness which is neglected. This should not be the case however, as our flexibility is something which, although taken for granted, has a deep impact on how we live and our overall quality of life.
John C. is a physiotherapist student who also holds a BSc. in Kinesiology as well as a Master’s Degree in Biomechanics. When he’s not studying or blogging over at Brace Access you can find him at the rink doing what all good Canadian boys do, playing puck.