Looking after your flexibility as you get older is essential.
Functional flexibility is the ability to move your joints through full range to perform everyday tasks. For example, being able to reach the shoulder fully upwards to change a lightbulb, turning the head fully to both sides while driving and bending the back along with the hips and knees to pick up something from the floor.
Maintaining flexibility is also important to be able to play sport and reduce the risk of injury. Age-related changes in the make-up of the connective tissues, which hold our body parts together, may contribute to the loss of flexibility that affects the risk of injury and reduces sports performance.1 For example, good hip movement is necessary to allow for longevity when playing football, tennis, and golf.
Unfortunately, research has clearly shown that most people lose flexibility as they age. From the age of forty onwards, the most significant reduction in flexibility tends to occur about the shoulders and spine, followed by the hips.2This loss of flexibility can be easily noted when watching walkers whose shoulders and spines remain stiff with excess bending movement at the elbows.
The good news is that flexibility can, to a considerable extent, be maintained and often improved as we age. The key is movement; regular, short movement breaks or 'snacks' incorporated into your daily routines combined with a few longer sessions per week, including strength, power, and speed exercises. Diet is also essential; much of our connective tissue is made up of water, so good hydration is necessary. Eating enough quality protein, healthy fats and some, but not too many complex carbohydrates will help maintain healthy body composition and improved mobility.3
I have always been in favour of a proactive, preventative approach to injury management. For this reason, I usually prescribe my clients, depending on their needs, a specific flexibility exercise programme to continue after completing a course of physiotherapy treatment. Each person is different, and the exercises should target the right parts of the body. For example, there is no need to provide neck flexibility exercises if the focus should be on the shoulders to allow for better neck mobility. It is also crucial that, for safety, exercises are graded correctly in the correct positions. While there are now many online exercises resources, there is no substitute for a 'bespoke' assessment and exercise programme designed for your body specifically.
By Simon Coghlan MSc, BSc Physio, DipMedAc
Image by Christian Northe from Pixabay