Thursday, April 30, 2015

Feel Younger by Staying Flexible

 Many of us lose flexibility as we age, which makes us feel even older than we really are. Simple tasks like bending down and tying shoelaces or reaching for a bag in the back seat of the car become harder. Recreational activities grow more daunting as our range of motion and strength decrease. With an increasing fear of injury as we age, many of us shrink away from these health-maintaining activities.

Is losing flexibility with age inevitable? No. In fact, there are elderly people who can still do leg splits and other feats of flexibility that even contortionists would find enviable! While most of us won’t need that degree of flexibility, I think everyone would like to keep moving easily and freely even as the years go on.

Why do some people stay flexible while others get stiffer with time? While some people are naturally more flexible, the key lies in habits. Just like strength, if you don’t use it, you lose it. Flexibility is largely dependent on the stretchiness of your muscles. Like a rubber band, if you use it regularly, it stays pliable. Let it sit around and it becomes stiff, breaking the next time you stretch it. That’s how you end up with an injury.

On the microscopic level, muscles contain bundles of contractile fibers. They slide back and forth, enabling the muscle to stretch and shorten. When used regularly, these fibers slide readily. Through inactivity, these fibers get stuck to each other, reducing the amount the muscle can stretch as a whole. As more fibers get stuck, the less flexible you become. If enough fibers become stuck, you can end up with an immovable contracture.

When we were kids, we moved and played a lot, keeping us flexible. Now that we’re older, studying and working take up more of our time. These often stationary activities leech flexibility from our bodies. Stretching helps recondition our muscles and restore flexibility. But if you’re like most people, stretching a couple times a week at the gym fails to undo the damage from countless hours of inactivity. This exceedingly common experience is why people often think the loss of flexibility with age is unavoidable.

The best way to counter this kind of damage caused by daily inactivity is to stretch every day. Now, this doesn’t mean you need to do deep stretching sessions every day, which may paradoxically reduce your flexibility. Rather, stretch lightly many times throughout the day, focusing on a different body part each time. Each light stretch helps counter the stiffness that has accumulated since the last stretch. If you sit a lot, stretch standing up. If you stand for most of the day, do some floor and squatting stretches.

If you keep forgetting to stretch regularly, try incorporating it into common actions. For example, instead of spinning your office chair around to get the phone, carefully twist and reach to stretch your neck, back, and shoulders. When walking through a doorway, take a second and hold onto both sides of the door frame. Then lean forward to stretch your chest muscles or lean back to stretch your upper back muscles. When you tie your shoelaces or pick up a light object, stretch your hamstrings by bending over slowly with your knees straight or just bent enough to feel a light stretch.

Do these little stretches consistently and remember to push your limits slightly each time. This will gradually improve your flexibility. Before you know it, you’ll be moving better and feeling younger.

1 comment:

  1. I never knew there was a thing called weak wrists. This is very enlightening for me, and now I know what to reccommend if I come across a person complaining about weak wrists.