Fitness & Exercise: Flexibility

Being flexible in life is a hot topic these days. In fact, I shared in an earlier blog the importance of being flexible in our actions, behaviours and thoughts, but in keeping with our theme this month of fitness and exercise, it makes sense to talk about how essential our physical flexibility is – and what we can do to improve it.

Every day we find ourselves bending down to pick something up, reaching for something, and twisting around to get comfortable or get a better look. These activities involve flexibility. Those of us who may moan and groan doing these tasks (or worse – get injured) likely have worse flexibility than we care to admit. Muscles and joints can grow stiff if not moved, which is why it’s important not to let our flexibility take a back seat when it comes to our health and fitness. Just like our muscle and bone mass, our flexibility tends to deteriorate with age as well. If we don’t keep up our flexibility, performing everyday tasks becomes more and more painful and difficult.

Why we need to stretch it out

Stretching and doing flexibility exercises may seem like “extra” or bonus activities, but they are essential to include in our overall fitness and strength routines. As we improve our flexibility, we reduce the tension and stiffness in our muscles, which makes any exercising and general movement safer. It also enhances our ability to move in a more unrestricted fashion and with a wider range of motion. Think of a golf or tennis swing for example. If we have good flexibility, we can make those swings fully using the proper techniques, but when we have poor flexibility we just won’t have the range of motion needed, and we are at a higher risk of injury as well. Stretching promotes better circulation and helps us perform not only our everyday activities, but it enhances our performance in every kind of sport or exercise.

Stretching the limit

Have you ever pulled a muscle? Most of us have. There are a lot of things going on when we “pull a muscle” and the “damage can be in the form of tearing (part or all) of the muscle fibres and the tendons attached to the muscle”. Although these strains can be caused by overuse or improper format, they are often the result of not warming up our muscles, or muscles that weren’t stretched out properly. These strains take time to resolve, meaning we have to avoid certain activities while they heal, and then our workout routine comes to a screeching halt and somehow getting back at it takes an extra bit of motivation. Furthermore, tight muscles not only get injured, they can cause undue strain on the neighbouring joints, which is another reason to make stretching a regular part of our day.

On the home stretch

Regular stretches are the key to flexibility. It may seem like a difficult routine to keep up, but the benefits far outweigh the extra few minutes. For me personally, it seems that no matter how much stretching I do, the next day my muscles are still stiff. However, I stay motivated to keep it up when I think about how much more stiff and sore I’d be without stretching! I’ve had a lot of lower back issues; I used to throw my back out every few months which was terribly debilitating, but keeping my muscles loose through stretching has resulted in very few issues lately.

Yoga is another great way to increase flexibility, and it has amazing cognitive benefits in terms of slowing down our busy minds. When Natalie and I lived in Arizona I used to go to a “hot-yoga” facility (although it was almost as hot outside!). The hot temperature really helped with my flexibility – muscles like to be warm! For those that aren’t used to regular yoga, it can be discouraging to see all the regulars easily master poses where those of us with poorer flexibility have a tough time even starting a pose! Like anything though, practice makes perfect, so start today with improving flexibility! Remember that our muscles need to be warmed up – either from a few minutes of walking, dancing around or doing anything active. When muscles are “cold”, our chance of injury increases. When starting out with stretching activities, it’s important to know that there are special techniques which maximize each type of stretch while avoiding strains on joints, which is why we need to consult with someone who’s experienced or check out videos online; there’s lots of helpful information out there on this topic. Trust me, it’s all about the baby steps when it comes to flexibility; we don’t often see overnight transformations, but the next time we bend down to pick up that Lego or pen off the floor (pain-free), we’ll be so thankful.

Building our cardiovascular endurance, developing our muscles, and improving our balance and flexibility are how we increase our overall health and fitness levels and prevent loss of mobility. By putting ourselves first when it comes to our fitness, this helps us live longer and better and improves our mental health and overall mood. Those are all the reasons we need to carve out time in our busy lives for our fitness – guilt free.

“I bend so I don’t break.” – Anonymous