Here’s an alarming fact- for most of us our flexibility will diminish by more than 50% as we age. Yikes! This means your gait will likely get shorter, your posture will suffer, and simple movements will become more difficult- like putting on your shoes or picking things up off the ground.
But does it have to happen?
Why You Become Less Flexible
When you have been on this planet for more than a couple of decades, you begin to see the results of muscle imbalances, overuse, faulty movement patterns and injuries in your flexibility. In fact, all of these things can cause muscles to tighten and become resistant to what you probably think of as normal movement- walking, stooping and bending. Because it becomes more difficult, we tend to avoid those motions that cause us trouble.
But as they say- if you don’t use it- you lose it. This is particularly true with flexibility. As we limit movement our bodies no longer sense the need to preserve the ability to stretch. Tendons and ligaments stiffen and the collagen that they are made of deteriorates. Without challenges to this connective tissue, there is no need for the cellular repair work or nutrients, so blood flow is diminished. Add to that the almost chronic state of dehydration most of us live in (medications, caffeine, heat, and not enough water) and it is no wonder that we see struggles with flexibility as we age.
So what can you do?
There are multiple issues to address. The first is hydration.
• Drink more water.
• Check your medications, and if a side effect is dehydration- add more water to your daily intake.
• Don’t wait until you feel thirsty to drink water or other fluids.
• Drink a glass of water or two immediately upon waking.
• Drink a full glass of water with your meds- as long as that is advised.
Important note: No one likes to talk about incontinence, but it is NOT a reason to avoid drinking your water. Talk with your doctor if this is a concern.
Eat your veggies. Dark green vegetables such as broccoli, kale and spinach contain a substance known as lutein. Lutein helps your body produce elastin.
Get high quality protein. The amino acids in protein provide the building blocks of elastin and collagen.
Omega 3s- these things are pretty much good for everything, including your connective tissue.
Massage is a healthy and natural way to encourage blood flow, promote healthy connective tissue, and generally feel better. Find a licensed massage therapist that specializes in mature populations.
Move more. Exercise, even light walking will go far in encouraging blood flow to get to the connective tissue and stave off some of the cellular senescence of aging. Start slow if you need to, but please just move. Classes with others are a great way to get moving in a supervised way, and also give the added benefit of social accountability.
Stretching improves your mobility, flexibility and ultimately your independence.
Stretches come in 2 varieties. Dynamic and static. Static stretches are ones that are held for 30 seconds or more and dynamic stretches that are more movement-based and mimic actions that you likely already do. It is important to keep the 2 forms separate, as doing a static stretch and bouncing or before you are warmed up has potential for injury.
General advice for a stretching program.
• Start slow.
• BE HYDRATED.
• Focus on your breathing. There is a tendency to hold your breath. You must counter that by consciously breathing or counting softly to yourself. If you are making a noise, you are not holding your breath.
• It’s ok to use tools like straps or bands to help.
• Get a little warm. Wait until after a workout or a walk to focus on stretching.
• If you are not sure about how something looks or feels, try doing your stretches in front of a mirror.
• Stretches will be uncomfortable, but they should NOT be painful. If you feel anything sharp or tingly, stop immediately.
The following is a list of seated or standing stretches you can do to keep every part of your body moving. Remember as always, please consult a physician before beginning this or any other program.
Seated or Standing Stretches
Tilt your head to the left, right, back and forward. Then turn your head left and right. Hold each movement for 10-30 seconds. It is not necessary or advisable to use your hands to deepen the stretch. Just relax into it. Avoid moving your shoulders as much as possible.
Special Note on BACK Stretches
Avoid dynamic movement on back stretches. Without proper core engagement, you can injure yourself. If you want to learn about core engagement, please contact a certified personal trainer to help you.
Upper Back Stretch
Squeeze your shoulder blades together, opening your arms wide and breathe deeply. Then round your back and cross your arms in front of you at the elbows, hollowing out your belly.
Sit straight and tall on a chair, bench or box with your shoulders back. Twist the torso slowly until facing one side, and hold for 10-30 seconds. Then do the other side.
Keeping your arm straight, cross it in front of you. Bend the other arm, and support the straight arm at the elbow. Push the straight arm’s shoulder down away from the ears and hold. Repeat on the other side.
Stand or sit straight in a chair. If you can, join both hands overhead tilt to one side and hold. Then do the other side. If you cannot put your arms overhead, you can put your hands on your hips and bend. Try to keep your hips straight.
Spread the arms wide. Extend the hands and slowly rotate the arms so that the thumbs are moving from pointing to the ceiling to pointing toward the floor.
Lift your arm, to touch the opposite shoulder behind your head. Grab that elbow with your other hand and ease it back until the elbow points at the ceiling.
Bicep and Wrist Stretch
Extend the arm with the elbow up and grab the fingers bringing them down to flex at the wrist. Rotate the hand and again grab the fingers to flex in the opposite direction.
Ideally this is done standing and grabbing your foot. Bend one knee to grab your foot behind you. Hold on to something if balancing is a challenge.
If that is too difficult, you can use this modified version. Stand next to a chair or other flat surface about knee high. Try to grab the foot of the bent leg by the shoelaces.
Place both hands on a wall. Stagger the feet. Bend the front leg slightly. Do not allow the knee to extend beyond the toe. Straighten the back leg and stretch the heel until it is flat.
Seated Glute Stretch
Sit straight on a sturdy chair, box or bench. Cross one leg. The ankle should rest on the opposite knee. Place one hand gently on the bent leg to stretch out to the side.
Inner Thigh Stretch
Sit on the edge of a chair, bench, or box. Take legs as wide as possible with toes pointing out. Place a hand on each knee. Without moving knees beyond toes, drop shoulders one at at time to press thighs open.
Try a few or try them all.
Need more help? TheGym locations all have certified personal trainers available to help you.