By Angie Comer
As we age, our muscles and connective tissues naturally lose elasticity. While there are many factors that affect flexibility, this loss of elasticity can affect the range of movement around your joints, which may lead to stiffness and tightened muscles and joints.
While strength training and cardio are front runners in the health and fitness space, flexibility is a key (and often overlooked) component of the equation. Being flexible is more than just a cool, late night party trick; it’s also integral to leading a full, healthy life. Flexibility allows us to hit the ground running a little easier each morning, have a better golf swing and achieve functional, practical tasks throughout the day. Whether you sit at a desk or you’re a professional athlete, flexibility is beneficial and key to the task. Explore some of the many benefits of flexibility, and then get some practical advice on how to become more flexible without devoting your life to stretching.
Improve Your Balance and Posture
Have you ever looked at yourself while walking past a reflective store window and noticed less-than-perfect posture? You’re definitely not alone. Poor posture isn’t just an aesthetic problem because it can lead to lower back pain and poor sleep. By improving your balance, you can also reduce the risk of injuries, slips and falls later in life.
Increase Your Metabolism
Every time you stretch, you increase your flexibility, as well as the strength of the muscle fibers you stretch. Stronger muscles need more calories each day, which means your metabolism gets a boost. Flexibility isn’t always inherently linked to weight loss, but it can definitely stoke your metabolism on a regular basis.
Enjoy a More Positive State of Mind
Flexibility does more than just improve your body. Increasing flexibility involves choosing poses that open up your body and are proven to relieve stress. Stretching can relieve physical tension, and when your body is relaxed, you’re more likely to sleep well each night and wake up rested. A daily flexibility routine can improve your mood and even increase your happiness.
Boost Your Circulation
It’s no secret that circulation is important, and achieving flexibility can go hand-in-hand with better circulation. As you stretch, you’ll increase blood flow to the muscles of the body. This will help protect you from a wide range of diseases like cardiovascular problems, kidney disease and diabetes.
Improve Physical Performance
Perhaps the benefit most commonly linked to flexibility is the improvement in physical performance. This absolutely applies to anyone who is active and can do everything from improving shoulder rotation for swimmers to giving joggers longer strides. However, it can also help you get more comfortable on long car rides and counteract the hip tightness from sitting in a chair all day behind a desk.
How to Get Started: A Realistic Guide
Ready to start working on your flexibility? The key is to commit. You don’t have to spend hours each day stretching, but commitment to a consistent daily practice of 15 to 20 minutes is key. Start with big muscles like the shoulders, the hamstrings and quadriceps and then take time to focus on smaller muscles. If you have any problem areas, hone in on them at the end of each stretching session.
If possible, start each flexibility session with a warm up, such as jumping jacks or a brisk walk. When your muscles are warm, each stretch will be more productive, and there is a smaller chance of discomfort and injury.
There is no set standard of flexibility you need to achieve in order to be healthy. Your lifestyle and daily activities will dictate how flexible you need to be, but increasing your flexibility can absolutely offer some benefits. Incorporating just a brief stretching routine to your day can make a world of difference.