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Stretching: The Most Needed and Under Utilized Component of Physical Fitness
What’s the first thing a cat does after she wakes up from one of her many naps? Right, she stretches her body. You should take lessons from her because she is still flexible and supple even though she is aging.
Keep your ankles flexible and strong and your balance improves. Keep your pelvis flexible and strong and your back pain will lessen. Flexibility plays a serious role in staying active as you age. By staying more flexible you will appear younger and you will be able to do more of the same things you did when you were younger.
The old adage about if you don’t use it you’ll lose it is very important when it comes to aging. As you age, you naturally get stiffer for many reasons; disuse is the main one, arthritis is another common complaint, and tight muscles due to inactivity. There is a decline in flexibility as you age, particularly if you are inactive, due to connective tissue changes in the muscles, ligaments, joint capsules, and tendons.
Because you walk less, you get stiffer, and being stiff causes you to move less. It’s a vicious circle. You should incorporate full body stretches into your daily routine. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you will become more flexible and supple.
Flexibility is one of the five components of being physically fit. Muscular strength and endurance (muscular fitness), cardiorespiratory fitness, flexibility and appropriate body composition (fat to lean ratio) are all components of being fit. De-stressing is another factor that is sometimes added.
Flexibility work will help you maintain joint range of motion. Make sure you do wrist and ankle circles to help with mobility.
If you are still driving, it’s very important to keep your neck moveable. If you can’t look over your shoulder to see where you are going when you are backing up–you are in big trouble.
Aging is associated with changes in the elasticity of the connective tissue and these changes result in a significant decrease in flexibility and range of motion. Although declines in flexibility and active range of motion are noted in most seniors, there is definite evidence that suggests that the decline in theses areas are due mainly from disuse, and that not all older individuals lose flexibility at the same rate.
Stretching exercises that emphasize range of motion and flexibility have been shown to increase ankle, knee and lower back flexibility.
Examples of flexibility exercises for ankles would be ankle circles along with pointing the toes away from the body and then pointing them up toward the ceiling. While most people prefer doing these exercises while sitting–I dare you to do them while standing and challenge your balance as well. If these exercises are not practiced, you’ll lose the ability to pick up your feet when you walk and you will tend to trip over them causing stumbling and ultimately falling.
To keep your knees flexible and strong, try sitting in a chair and then stand up. Do this at least ten times and then rest. Do another set if you are able. This exercise not only strengthens the knees and keeps them flexible but it also strengthens the quadriceps (front of the thigh). By keeping the quadriceps strong, you will be able to take care of yourself and remain independent.
Using an exercise ball is the best way to keep your pelvis flexible and strong. Just sitting on the ball is a challenge for most folks and doing just that is very good for you. As you become more comfortable on the ball, start moving your hips in a circle trying not to move your knees. Pretend you are in a box and make sure the ball touches each wall of the box. Be sure to change the direction of the circles and do equal amounts each direction. You’ll probably favor one direction over the other–that’s normal. By keeping your pelvis flexible and strong you will lessen the chances for back pain.
Domestic animals have the luxury of stretching after they nap because they know that they are going to be fed and be taken care of. However, I was watching a juvenile moose this morning and when she got up she went right to eating. I think survival is the first thing that comes to mind in wild animals. Since you are domesticated–you should take the time to stretch and relax. Yoga and Tai Chi are just a couple of class suggestions that will help with flexibility, balance, and strength.
A good rule of thumb is to stretch the muscles that you work. When you stretch after working out you will alleviate the possibility of blood pooling in your extremities so that you avoid muscle cramping later in the day.
Nothing improves your mood more than exercise. Your body longs for movement and when you give it what it wants it will reward you for years and years!
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