Why it pays to be flexible: The benefits of stretching and moving as you age

Sep 06, 2019
Kusal Goonewardena says maintaining flexibility is critical to good health. Source: Getty.

Maintaining flexibility is not only critical to good health, it’s something which can be improved.

With flexibility, it’s “use it or lose it”: moving and stretching your body regularly maintains good flexibility with positive health benefits.

If we stop moving, our body gradually limits its range of movement until anything physical becomes more difficult.

The great news is flexibility is not set – it can be improved with a little time and effort. Even those who suffer from osteoarthritis will experience benefits from exercising regularly within tolerable pain levels.

Here are some key ways to improve your flexibility:

Exercise at all three intensity levels

The best exercise blends low, medium and high intensity across the week. The different intensities can be done with any exercise, whether running, swimming, riding an exercise bike, lifting weights, boxercise, or anything else you can imagine.

Low intensity exercise includes walking, gentle swimming, gardening and so on – ideally everybody will be doing a good amount of low intensity exercise days at least five days per week.

Medium intensity exercise should be two to three times a week and for about 25-45 minutes each time – medium is pushing yourself to somewhere between 5.5 and 7 out of 10 in terms of exertion. Moderate exercise may include running, cycling, fast walking or swimming.

High intensity exercise can give you an edge, even at short durations. Aim for a high intensity burst three times a week.

Because high intensity involves pushing yourself to 8.5 out of 10 intensity you may need to consult a health professional first. I have seen great results with a three minute workout I initially developed for my athletes, which is adaptable for anyone at any level of fitness.

Bodyweight exercises and stretching

The beauty of Pilates and yoga is they can be done anywhere – no gym required and very little equipment needed. However, joining a class is recommended when starting out on yoga or Pilates.

Think of Pilates as getting the foundations of your body right. Pilates builds the body’s core, getting it to work most effectively. The exercises focus on getting the diaphragm, pelvic floor and transversus abdominus (the muscle group behind the abs) working most effectively in concert together.

Yoga is also fantastic for the body – its benefits have been known for thousands of years, as a great way to promote flexibility, core strength and build fitness.

The main thing is to be consistent – with Pilates and Yoga, just 10 minutes a day will make a difference. Eventually you may choose to increase the workload as you become more confident.

Pilates and Yoga both have an added bonus – they each help your posture. This cannot be overstated, because posture causes so many problems we see at Elite Akademy.

Good posture alleviates back and neck pain, as well as taking pressure off your joints. This is great for people who suffer from osteoarthritis. Good posture aligns the spine and the core muscle regions, a positive to your overall flexibility and well-being.

Keys for success

Whether it’s Pilates, yoga, or a high intensity workout, the key is to go at your own pace. This means being aware of your limitations and taking it a bit at a time. Try not to push yourself to 100% exertion and never push through pain.

You might be surprised, but yoga can be taxing and difficult. Start out with a gentle, beginner’s class and build slowly.

Aim to get the technique right first, otherwise you will injure yourself. Gradually, as you commit to the new exercise regime you will become better, more adept and more flexible, allowing you to increase the load.

A good mantra with anything promoting fitness and flexibility is do a little often – a regular commitment is better than having breaks between longer workouts.

Do you struggle with flexibility? Is there a type of exercise that you prefer?

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