Flexibility Loss is the Enemy of Youth

One of the features of age- and inactivity-related decay is a loss of joint mobility, or stiffness. It has both physical and psychological impact on your WHealth.

Interestingly, unlike aerobic and strength training that have largely physical benefit plus bonus mental and emotional benefits, flexibility may be more valuable for non-physical reasons. I realize that this is a subjective position, and very hard to substantiate with research, but there is very little doubt in my mind that declining flexibility is a significant opponent to a youthful disposition. If you creak and groan when you get out of bed in the morning, or struggle to look over your shoulder while you reverse your car, or can no longer cut your toenails, you begin to feel old. When you feel old, you believe that you’re getting old. You will learn the immense power of belief in other posts on this website. You want to avoid subjective feelings of aging at all costs. So, my strong recommendation is that you include flexibility training in your life.

The goal of flexibility training is to increase and maintain range of motion in the major joints and their surrounding muscle-tendon groups. Research shows that this can be achieved at all ages. Flexibility increases temporarily after a single bout of stretching, and improves in an enduring fashion after 3 to 4 weeks of regular stretching. In addition to the psychological benefits (when you feel young, you act young, and become younger) and practical benefits (you really can tie your shoelaces again), research has demonstrated several physical benefits. In particular, stretching enhances postural stability and balance. This is a true for all individual joints. Special nerves (called proprioceptive nerves) help joints to maintain positional integrity, a facility that is critical for their stability and control. Flexibility training potentiates this sense and enhances joint stability.

Although lower risk than strength training, I tend to recommend that you start your flexibility training with a good trainer. Often, the same expert that guides you in your resistance training can help with your flexibility prescription. The reason that I advocate for this is that there are many ways to achieve flexibility, and not all are good. You have to find the right type of exercises, range of motion, duration of stretch for your individual condition and requirements. There are many good online resources that can help you, so don’t let the lack of access to a fancy trainer keep you from stretching. As always, my advice if you’re starting up after a long break, or have underlying physical limitations, is to seek medical advice first!

I recommend that you include flexibility training in your regimen 2 to 3 times per week. You can develop a good routine that only takes you 10 minutes, and this should fit easily into your daily regimen. Good for your body and your mind!

There is a surge in popularity for yoga, tai chi, and a host of similar low-impact exercise forms that involve a combination of relaxation, resistance and flexibility training, often with significant mental, emotional and spiritual exercise. I’m a big fan! Unless you’re involved in fast-moving sessions that are more aerobically challenging, you can’t really use them as substantial components of your 10,000 steps, but their emotional, flexibility and strength benefits are considerable.

Have fun,

Roddy

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