Aging Is A Time To Focus On Flexibility
If moving is more difficult now than in your younger years, it may be a result of deceased flexibility. Flexibility refers to your body’s ability to move through its full range of motion without pain or difficulty. If you do not move your body regularly, the lack of physical movement will affect your flexibility as your tendons stiffen and your muscles degenerate from lack of use. As you stop getting into certain positions that were once easy, you lose function and your quality of life becomes impaired. Flexibility is very much a case of use it or lose it, as the saying goes.
Flexibility is one of four components of physical health and wellness. The components of fitness that we tend to be most familiar with are cardio-respiratory which benefit the heart and lungs and muscular-skeletal which benefit bone and muscle health. Another component of fitness important in aging is balance. It is recommended to incorporate flexibility “stretching” exercises for 5-10 minutes about every other day of the week.
So what are the benefits of flexibility? Maintaining your flexibility leads to independence. Some daily tasks like brushing your hair, reaching for items on a tall shelf, or tying shoelaces require flexibility without struggling. Flexibility keeps you safe from significant falls. If your ankles or hips are not flexible, your body will struggle to maintain balance or correct itself when you may stumble. Flexibility also simply makes your body feel better by helping you avoid daily aches and pains, improve circulation, relieve tension and stress, and maintain muscles that support your body movements.
Having a good range of motion is essential for everyday life, so can you pass the flexibility test?
1. Sitting or kneeling on the floor with shoulders square with your body, turn your head to one side then the other. You should be able to get your chin almost in line with your shoulder.
2. Touching your toes is a good way to test your back, hips, and hamstring flexibility. If your fingers are in the general vicinity of your toes, that is a sign of good flexibility.
3. To test the rotation of your hips start while sitting a char and feet flat on floor in front of you. Next, cross left ankle over the right knee. Lean forward to clasp your hands behind your right hamstring and lean forward. If you unable to clasp your hands behind your hamstring, this indicates tightness in your hips. Repeat this on the other side.
4. Testing your upper and middle part of your back uses a stretch called the open book. Start by lying on your side with feet together and knees bent.
Straighten both arms in front of you with hands resting together. Slowly rotate your top arm open keeping your lower arm and both legs still. See how far you can rotate your arm to the floor behind you without moving your legs.
5. To test your ankles and calves, start by facing a wall with your toes touching the wall and step one foot back slightly with heel planted to floor with both feet. See how far away from the wall you can get without having your heel pop up. You may even lower your back knee toward the floor to get deeper into a stretch.
Instead of shying away from movements that are painful, you can work on your flexibility and improve your range of motion. Even though most of us will never become flexible enough to be a yogi with legs wrapped around our heads, with time and patience we can reach a little higher and maybe even sit cross-legged on the floor to play with grandkids. Flexibility exercises should be incorporated into your weekly physical activity Chautauqua County Office for the Aging routine using static and dynamic stretches. Dynamic stretches are great for warm up excercises, where you do a stretch for a few seconds and repeat it 8-12 times. Once your muscles are warmed up, hold a static stretch for at least 30 seconds. Eventually you will find the point of discomfort gets farther and farther into the range of motion. Breathing in for two to three seconds and out for two to three seconds as you hold the stretch helps reduce stress and relaxes your body so your muscles can go through the full range of motion. Exercises like yoga and tai chi are great ways to work multiple components of fitness at the same time such as flexibility, balance, and strength.
We know the healthy choice is not always the easiest choice, but small changes can make a big difference. Chautauqua County Office for Aging Services Dietitian,
Carey Skelton RDN is available for nutrition education through SNAP-ed programs. The SNAP-ed programs are FREE for those who receive or qualify for SNAP benefits. We want to help you save time, save money, and eat healthy! Chautauqua County Office for Aging Services Senior Nutrition Program also provides nutritious meals through Home Delivered Meals and the Dining Out Program throughout the county. We also sponsor several exercise programs. Please remember to contribute toward your OFAS nutrition services if you can. These programs are not sustainable without the support of participant and community contributions. Be aware that SNAP benefits can be used toward your contribution. Call NY Connects at 716-453-4582 for more details and information about any of these Nutrition and Wellness programs provided by Chautauqua County Office for Aging Services.