You don’t have to be Gumby to be flexible

Older woman stooped over picking up bags with a small dog
This is everyday life! Are you flexible enough to live it?

You don’t have to practice yoga daily or hold a cross legged meditation pose for hours to be flexible. You want to be able to do the things you need or enjoy doing. Movement and strength is the key to allowing you to continue your activities of daily living (ADL) for a very long time. Do you like gardening, golfing, laundry, or picking up after your dog (well maybe not that)? You get the idea. Almost every activity in our daily living requires that we bend, lift and twist.   

Flexibility, the third pillar

Flexibility, our third pillar for longevity is defined as the ability to move a joint or joints through a complete range of motion.  Think arm circles. Can you do them AND get a full range of motion? How do your shoulders feel when you do arm circles?

Brad Walker, the Stretch Coach stresses that strength is a key component to flexibility.  He states that strength is crucial for joint stability. If the muscle around the joint (think of the legs of those awesome hurdlers we will soon see in the Summer Olympics) is weak and you are trying to improve your flexibility of that joint, you are risking potential injury to the joint if you don’t have a strong stabilizing muscle around it.

Hurdler (cartoon)
How do your hips move?

The Summer Olympics are coming soon so take note and really watch those athletes. They are flexible AND strong.  Check out the legs of those hurdlers.

Rusty Bike Chain
Do you feel like this rusty bike chain in the morning?

Lack of flexibility is like a rusty bike chain. If the bike sits outside in the rain and doesn’t get used it will rust and lock up, just like our joints. The chain is only one component.  If the rest of the bike is not in good working order you won’t have a functional bike or a good ride.  Ever try to ride a bike with a bent frame or no air in the tires? It’s the combination of strength, stability and flexibility that will give you that great ride.

Increasing your flexibility (and strength) can help you:

  • avoid injuries
  • stave off arthritis and other chronic issues
  • increase your range of motion
  • improve posture and balance

You don’t have to become a human pretzel to be flexible.

Man doing yoga pose
It’s OK that you can’t do this

I always recommend a nice easy dynamic stretch before an exercise or activity. These stretches help warm up muscles and lubricate joints. A good example is swinging your arms across your chest. Swing them back and forth prior to doing pushups.  Did you watch my video on wall pushups?

For the golfers out there, think about swinging the golf club at the driving range BEFORE you play golf.  It’s the warm up that gets you ready for the game.  You don’t have to hit hundreds of balls, but get out and do a bit of stretching and warm those muscles up to help you be more flexible and fluid when you swing. Your game and your back will thank you.

I do dynamic stretches before I run. As a runner and someone past 60, I pay very close attention to my ankle flexibility.  Ankle flexibility allows me to roll my feet forward and backward as I run It has also saved me a few times when I have stumbled, like this past weekend. When I was running on the street and had to step off to the side of the road as a car was coming toward me I stepped into and slid in mud and almost fell. It was probably pretty comical to watch. I think that my flexible ankles, strength and stability kept me from that fall. I would have hated to have cold mud all over me. Yuck! Thankfully it was just my shoes. Slipping in the mud is no different from slipping on water around the house or on ice on the sidewalk during the winter. As the saying goes – Be ready to get ready.  I don’t profess to have great flexibility, but I work at it every day.  See my post specifically geared to ankle flexibility.

When to do flexibility work

Brad Walker suggests that flexibility work in the evening helps improve your flexibility on a more permanent and longer lasting basis. Just don’t forget that strength work as well.

For those of us who are not in our 20s. As we age our muscles tighten and range of motion in our joints lessens. Ever notice how stiff you are getting out of bed on a cold winter morning? So get moving, do some simple flexibility exercises every day so you can do the things you love to do. If the morning is better, that’s fine. Just do something.

Free info on stretching and other exercises

The National Institution on Aging offers some great FREE information on stretching and exercises

https://go4life.nia.nih.gov/exercise-type/flexibility/

https://order.nia.nih.gov/sites/default/files/2018-07/workout-to-go.pdf

https://www.nia.nih.gov/sites/default/files/exercise-for-free-infographic-508.pdf

Brad Walker, the Stretch Coach also has some good online information- see below:

References

Johnson NF, Hutchinson C, Hargett K, Kosik K, Gribble P. Bend Don’t Break: Stretching Improves Scores on a Battery of Fall Assessment Tools in Older Adults. J Sport Rehabil. 2020 Feb 21:1-7. doi: 10.1123/jsr.2019-0246

Kaito,E., et al. Combined Effects of Stretching and Resistance Training on Ankle Joint Flexibility.  Physiology Journal, 2013

Stathokostas, L. et al.  Flexibility of Older Adults Aged 55-86 Years and the Influence of Physical Activity.  Journal of Aging Research,  2013

Tainaka,K. et al.  Six-year Prospective Study of Physical Fitness and Incidences of Disability Among Community-dwelling Japanese Elderly Women. Geriatrics and Gerontology International, vol. 9, no. 1, pp. 21-28, 2009.

Sandi Feaster

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