Remember when you were a kid? You could lie on the floor and pop up in seconds. You could bend from the waist and touch the floor. If you were really talented, like my kids, you could lie on your back and get your knees to touch your ears. Flexibility allowed you to do all these marvelous feats. Just because you are older now, it does not mean you should give up on flexibility. We lose flexibility as we age. Most of the loss comes from inactivity,but some comes from the normal process of aging. But just like strength and cardiovascular fitness, your flexibility can improve with regular training. Here’s seven reasons why you should stay flexible.
- Improve your posture Ever see someone walking around with hunched shoulders or stooped over at the hips? Tight muscles can cause you to hold your body this way. Improving your flexibility can help you release those muscles and straighten your spine.
- Avoid injury Tendons, ligaments and muscles have a better range of motion when they are flexible. A better range of motion means less chance of those tendons ligaments and muscles being pushed beyond their limits and being damaged.
- Less back pain A majority of Americans will experience back pain during his/her lifetime. For some, it will be excruciating and debilitating. Tight hamstrings pull the pelvis forward which puts more pressure on the lower back. My first job out of college was a YMCA program director. I taught a class called, “Y’s way to a healthy back”. Many of my students had been sent to the class as a last ditch effort before surgery. Most of them had very tight hamstrings. With just ten simple flexibility exercises done each day, not one of those students had to go on to have surgery. Most of them found a tremendous amount of pain relief from this class.
- Increased range of motion You will be able to move your body more efficiently through activities of daily living. Things like bending over to pick up a child’s toy on the floor, reaching the top cupboard in your kitchen, stooping to get the the groceries out of the car, lowering yourself into a chair, or climbing the steps for the 25th time in one day will become easier.
- Improved Circulation Being more flexible allows blood to travel more easily to the muscles and joints. With a better blood supply the muscles and joints will work more smoothly which means less aches and pains. I’m for that!
- Less Stress Flexible muscles contain less tension. That means not as many stiff and aching shoulders, necks, hips, knees and backs.
- Improves physical performance A pliable muscle can run through a variety of movements more efficiently. This can improve your performance in many of your favorite sports like golf, tennis, hiking, swimming, skiing and many others.
*Special bonus benefit
Travel more comfortably You will be able to sit comfortably in a variety of positions over time in a confined space. This comes in handy in a crowded plane or when turning around constantly to tell your kids that, no, you are NOT there yet.
Does this sound like a familiar scenario? You have a crazy day; work, appointments, obligations with kids, supper, clean-up, homework, bedtime. You have no idea how you will fit a workout in so you just skip it for the day. Doctors recommend at least 60 minutes of exercise each day, but studies done at Boston Sports clubs show that people who exercise for shorter periods of time remain more consistent with their workouts. If your day is jam packed you are more likely to stick to your work out if it is shorter.
The recommendation for 60 minutes of exercise can be broken into smaller pieces. You could do two thirty minute workouts or three 20 minute workouts or even six 10 minute workouts and fit them in wherever it made sense. I read about one professional woman who would do a few minutes of ab or lower body exercises every time she took a bathroom break. She said some of the other people in the bathroom gave her some funny looks, but she was getting results and that’s what really mattered.
A short workout is better than no workout at all. If you only have time for 10 or 15 minutes, do it! It will keep you on track and make you less likely to give up all together. Of course you can always take the stairs instead of the elevator, park your car farther away from the entrance when you go anywhere and play with your kids instead of just sending them outside to get your minutes in.
Another option is a workout program designed specifically for busy people. Ten Minute Trainer is a workout program that gives you cardio, total body, upper body, lower body and flexibility training all in ten minute clips. If you have time, you can do two or three, but if you don’t…well everyone can find ten minutes in their day to work out right? I like this one when I don’t have time for my usual workout. That way I can stay..consistent! See the theme? If you think you might be interested in Ten Minute Trainer, watch the video. It’s about 7 minutes long and in that time you could almost have your workout done!
Good flexibility will prevent injuries and keep your lower back happy and healthy. Here’s five of my favorites. These are the ones that make you go “ahhh…” after you have completed them.
1. Cross Foot Hamstring stretch This one will stretch your upper back, lower back and your hamstrings. You get three stretches in one.
Stand straight and cross your feet. Slowly roll each vertebrae down as you reach for your toes. Let your body hang and look at your legs (or knees depending on your flexibility level). Breathe deeply. Now slowly roll back up, one vertabae at a time. Cross your feet the other way and repeat.
2. Shoulder Stretch This feels great after an upper body workout.
Hold your right arm up and straight, bring your arm across your body and hug it to your body with your left arm. Put your chin on your shoulder and hold. Repeat with your left arm.
What are your favorite flexibility moves?
3. Seated Leg Hamstring Stretch If I am having twinges in my lower back I do a few of these and it usually disappears.
Sit on the floor with your right leg straight and your left leg bent (your legs form a number four) With your back straight, raise arms then lower while reaching for your toes. Think about bringing your ribcage as close to the thigh as possible. Breathe deeply while holding the stretch. Repeat with the left leg. Now extend both legs and repeat the stretch reaching for both feet. If you are able to reach to your heels easily, add a yoga block.
4. Pigeon Pose This is a Yoga Stretch that really opens up your hips.
Put your palms on the floor about shoulder width apart. Bring right leg through and sit on the floor with your knee bent. The right side of your foot and leg should be on the floor. Extend your left leg behind you. Hold this position then repeat with right and left leg switched.
5. Child’s Pose This is a great stretch after ab and core work.
Kneel on the floor and extend both arms, palms down on the floor in front of you. Put your forehead on the floor and breath. Ahhh….