Benefits of Flexibility
Flexibility provides the core foundation for movement. Maintaining as much muscle strength, muscle endurance, and cardiovascular endurance as we age is important, but maintaining flexibility may be the most important since it is foundation of movement. Relatively speaking, flexibility becomes more important as we age. When we’re young we’re naturally limber (at least some of you) and do not need to work as hard on our flexibility. Getting older changes that.
Following an orthopedic injury or surgery, flexibility is first restored before improving strength and endurance. You can only build strength and endurance within the range you have motion. If you have little motion you will also have limited muscle strength and endurance.
An early sign of aging is a loss of flexibility or joint movement. Once simple tasks like bending over to put on socks and shoes become more difficult as we age. As we age there are natural changes to the elasticity of the muscles and tendons – they tend to become stiffer.
But, another reason we lose motion as we age is that activities of daily living largely require us to only use our muscles and joints through a very limited range of motion. For instance,rarely throughout the day will we ever need to reach our hand overhead as much as possible. So if we don’t make a conscious effort to do that with some frequency we will eventually lose motion. Rarely, we do have to squat as low as possible, and thus we lose hip motion. Joints require that muscles receive daily or at least frequent elongation (stretching) to maintain joint mobility.
We sometimes confuse flexibility and stretching. Flexibility is an attribute, stretching is an action. Stretching leads to improved flexibility like cardio leads to improved fitness. How much do you need to stretch? Enough to improve your flexibility. And, that will vary from person to person.
Benefits of Stretching
Regular stretching improves flexibility and improves day-to-day physical performance, improved joint motion, and a better sense of balance. Pre-workout stretching prepares muscles for the upcoming activity. Post-workout stretching improves blood flow to muscles, assists in removal of waste products produced by exercise, and relieves muscle stress. Tight muscles cause aches and pains and contribute to poor posture. Better results occur when muscles are warm when they are stretched so be sure to walk or ride a stationary bike for a few minutes even before a pre-workout stretch.
Hold each stretch for a comfortable length of time before moving onto the next muscle group (usually 20-30 seconds). Spend extra time on areas that are tighter than others. Don’t force or bounce a stretch. Target the major muscle groups: neck, shoulders, lower back, hips, thighs, and calves. Be sure to breathe and be relaxed as possible.
The longer you maintain range of motion of your joints, the longer you will maintain a healthy quality of living.