As you age, you may find your range of motion is not what it used to be and your body feels stiffer. It may be harder to get out of bed in the morning, more difficult to tackle routine tasks and a chore to put your shoes on.
While you may chalk these changes up to being a natural part of the aging process, it’s not the way it has to be. While it’s true that our muscles and tendons naturally lose some elasticity over time, there are things you can do to maintain flexibility as you age – and there are good reasons to do so.
One of the primary reasons muscles lose their flexibility is not just the passing of time but inactivity. The less you use your muscles and joints, the stiffer and less elastic they become. Many people are naturally more sedentary as they age, but even if you’re not running around on a soccer field every weekend like you used to, there are steps you can take to maintain muscle flexibility. This should be an important part of your overall fitness routine, no matter how fit you are.
Here are 3 reasons why it’s worth taking the time to keep your muscles and joints limber:
Activities of daily living– Just about everything you do each day, from walking and bending to lifting and carrying objects, is affected by your flexibility. The more flexible your muscles, tendons and joints are, the easier it’ll be to do the things you need to do each day, from taking out the trash and tending to your lawn to reaching for something on the shelf or playing with your grandkids. Maintaining flexibility helps keep people more independent as they age.
Balance and posture– Increasing flexibility is one of the best ways to improve your balance and posture. While this may not seem like such a big deal, it may be the biggest benefit of staying flexible. Improved balance, better posture and being more limber make it less likely you’ll fall – and falls are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries in older adults. In fact, 1 in 4 Americans aged 65+ falls each year. Even if you do fall, being more flexible may lessen the severity of your injury.
Pain and stiffness– As your flexibility decreases, it becomes more likely you’ll experience stiffness and joint pain. You’ll also find that your muscles are more sore after you exercise or move your body.
While cardio and strength-training are good for your body and overall health, they’re not enough. The best way to maintain flexibility is to incorporate stretching exercises into your workout. After exercising, when your muscles are already warmed up, take a few minutes to stretch your muscles to the point where they feel tight but don’t cause you pain, holding each position for up to 30 seconds.
You don’t even have to work out to stretch. You can do simple stretching exercises while you’re watching TV, at work or after you get out of the shower. Take a few minutes to gently stretch all of the major muscle groups in your body, including your shoulders, back, hips and legs. It’s best to spend a few minutes warming up first, which will help increase blood flow to your muscles and make them more pliable. Tai chi and pilates are other good ways to improve flexibility.