Flexibility gains importance with age
Science has propelled fitness and body physiology to unsurpassed levels, assisting an entire spectrum of health and fitness enthusiasts.
Despite all we have learned, one of my greatest regrets is that as an athlete, very few coaches emphasized proper and frequent stretching. In fairness, they simply didn’t know then the best way to prepare the body for competitive sports prior to and after the event itself.
Naturally, the knowledge that has been gleaned is not specific to competition alone, but to any individuals that wish to maximize their body’s performance in the gym, their recreational or competitive running or preparing to go on a challenging hike.
As the population grows older, one observation that receives a majority vote, is how flexibility decreases with age – a mantra I hear time and time again from my clients and is a proven fact. The extent to which this has to happen is somewhat debatable, however the main culprit is a change in our collagen.
Collagen is a structural protein that is found in different types of connective tissue such as cartilage, ligaments, tendons, bones, muscle sheath and skin.
As we become older, our the collagen fibers tend to stick together, resulting in a lack of elasticity or stretch. As a result of this, our ability to move our joints through a full range of motion also becomes compromised, resulting in surrounding musculature being confined to smaller and smaller ranges of motion. The physiology of this change is magnified when we also less active, limiting to an even further extent a joints ability to remain highly mobile.
On the other side of the coin, is another fact – that stretching and remaining active can significantly retard the progress of “joint stiffening” and decreased mobility.
The benefits of stretching exceed the single fact of increasing a persons range of motion. Stretching also helps minimize the “locking up” or post work-out stiffness a person experiences when they are done training, helps to minimize the chance for injury, and equally, improve an individuals speed of recovery after injury.
In our work with the senior population, we have also witnessed how remaining limber (flexible) helps clients improve their balance and ultimately decreasing the odds of falling, an event that statistically injures and even kills a large population of senior adults into the later decades of life.
So what have we learned about stretching ? The short answer is “plenty.” Entire books and lectures have been written and lectured about methods of stretching and becoming more limber. Listed below are some things to take into consideration about stretching:
Don’t bounce – When I was in high-school we bounced up and down or forwards and backwards through our stretch. Not only does this put undue stress on our tendon’s but can overload them resulting in tears and ruptures of the tendon.
Be Warm – There is not better time to perform a good static (holding the stretching position) stretch, than when the body is warm or sweating, the workout is over, and the body’s core temperature is elevated.
Timing is everything – Moving stretches, also known as “dynamic” stretches should be done prior to physical activity or resistance training. The correct order however is to get the body warm with easy cardio, and then perform the dynamic stretch prior to resistance training or movement based fitness.
Yoga – Yoga has become an increasingly popular activity for all ages as people are realizing the benefits of becoming more limber and flexible. These classes tap into balance and strength while enhancing flexibility. They are frequently offered based on either age or experience.
The bottom line is that it is never to late to become flexible. Flexibility can be achieved inexpensively, with a consistent focused approach that leaves a person “feeling good” for a life-time.