Read on to learn how age affects flexibility, why you need flexibility and how to retain & increase flexibility in old age with just 3 steps.
As your body gets older, you lose flexibility. The range of motion of the joints decreases with age. This is a normal aging process.
Flexibility depends on the health of the tendons, ligaments and muscles that surround your joints. It also depends on medical conditions such as arthritis and osteoporosis, which tend to increase, as you grow old.
Though, flexibility decreases with age – but elderly people can exhibit great flexibility when they adopt certain healthy fitness routines.
How & Why Flexibility Is Affected By Age?
The tendons and ligaments are commonly known as connective tissues. Their job is to keep your body connected. Tendons connect bone to muscles & ligaments connect bone to bone.
Connective tissues behave like an elastic band. When new (think when you were younger), an elastic band stretches easily without damage and retain its original shape. But after time, the same elastic band will not stretch as easily, nor will it go back to its original shape. And it will also get drier and have tiny cracks. And, if you try to stretch an old elastic band, it will snap.
The same happens with our connective tissues. As we age, the water content in connective tissues decreases, so they become drier & less elastic. Loss of flexibility makes them more susceptible to injury or snapping. This leads to reduction in our flexibility and joint pains.
Why We Need To Maintain Flexibility As We Get Old
Flexibility provides the following benefits:
(i) Improves our ability to carry on day-to-day physical activities.
(ii) Reduces the risk of injuries, for example muscle strains & fractures.
(iii) Improves balance – which means reduced risk of falling and getting injuries.
(iv) Less chronic pains.
(v) Improved posture.
(vi) Youthful looks.
Maintaining/Increasing Flexibility As We Age
The “Use It or Lose It” principle truly applies to human bodies too. If you don’t use your muscles, you lose their strength over time. With loss in muscles strength, you tend to move them less often. This can cause further decreases in joints flexibility because they are not taken through their full range of motion to preserve their length.
Though we cannot prevent loss of some flexibility, but the good news is that we have the capability to slow down or reverse this loss to a great extent.
Exercise And Flexibility
The first step towards preserving flexibility as you age is to stay active! It’s much easier to prevent age-related decline in flexibility than to try and reverse it. But the ongoing research shows that if we exercise regularly we can recover a significant part of flexibility over time. Here are some thumb rules in this regard:
(i) Do proper warm ups for 5 -10 minutes so as to prepare your body, including heart, muscles & joints before starting exercise session, especially if you’ve been sedentary.
(ii) Remember to do cool downs after each exercise session for adequate recovery so as to prevent injury.
(iii) Never use jerks & bounce motions. Keep your movements slow & under control.
(iv) Begin slow, and increase exercise intensity gradually. I recommend a 10% rule, which means not to increase distance, time, or how much weight you use by more than 10% a week. Follow the dictum, slow & steady wins the race to keep you injury free.
(v) Keep some days per week as rest days. The rest days depends on your age & fitness level.
Note: Though, high intensity training is a budge word these days (and for good reason), but hold off on it. Before you jump into the bandwagon, first get yourself into shape & good condition with some nice cardio & strength training.
Stretching & Flxibilty
I have seen people who exercise regularly, yet are very stiff. A person may be capable of lifting heavy weights but may not be able to bend over to tie a shoe. Or an individual may run miles, but still you can guess by looking at him or her how stiff he/she is. Fit, yet stiff – that’s what I call them!
Ongoing research shows that stretching exercises contribute a lot in maintaining the flexibility and range of motion in joints. Yoga and Pilates are good forms of stretching exercises.
This explains why it’s important to include focused stretching into your fitness regime. And by focused I mean working more on the body parts that lack in flexibility or those which you want to improve.
But be ware of short little, rapid fire stretches because they might rather tighten your muscles. Why? When a muscle is stretched initially, it tends to react by shortening. This is how our reflexes work.
On the other hand when you hold a stretch for some time (say 30 seconds), it sends a different signal to your brain – a sort of more permanent message to extend the muscles.
So by holding stretches for longer time, and doing at least three times per week, we can condition our connective tissues to remain more flexible.
Improving flexibility is not a quick job, so begin slowly with stretches and keep doing them. Pay attention to your body – how it’s responding. As you increase your flexibility, you’ll be able to go farther with the same stretch.
Stretching – Useful Tips
And, if you are already busy working out and don’t have time for stretching. Here are few tips – how to fit stretching into your busy schedule:
(i) When watching TV, try to stretch at the same time.
(ii) Stand up at your work place and stretch. The bonus you get is: improved blood flow to your brain, improved attention in your job.
(iii) Attend a yoga class twice a week.
(iv) Allot some time for stretching in your workout routines. For example if your workout routine is of about 45 minutes, add another 15 minutes for stretching – making a total plan of on an hour.
(v) Aim for 3 focused stretching sessions per week, and see you’ll have less muscle sprains, fewer aches and probably fewer injuries over time!
Hydration & Flexibility
Unlike cartilage, tendons and ligaments, the other tissues in your body receive a constant, adequate supply of blood (and nutrients, including water).
But the connective tissues (cartilage, tendons and ligaments) get inherently very poor blood supply. This explains why the health of our connective tissues is critically dependent on water.
When the connective tissues are adequately hydrated, they remain elastic & healthy. And when they are deprived of fluid – they dry out, shrink and crack. So, always do your best to prevent dehydration!
The Take Away!
With age our bodies lose flexibility leading to slower walking speed, smaller steps while walking, joint pains, and increased risk of falling. To retain flexibility you will have to work on the above three guidelines regularly – Exercises, Stretching & Hydration.