As we get older, the physical changes that occur naturally in our bodies can keep us from doing what we love. Muscles shrink and their fibers decrease, and tendons lose their water content, making our bodies stiff and unable to tolerate stress. Unless we work to keep our muscle tissue and tendons strong as we age, we might as well kiss our flexibility good-bye.
“Just like strength and endurance training, balance and flexibility are just as vital to senior health and fitness,” explains Diane Reier, Lifestyle Specialist at Aspired Living® of Prospect Heights, a senior living community in Prospect Heights, IL. “Though it’s commonly overlooked compared to more intense and result-driven exercises, flexibility plays an important role in allowing us to continue the activities and independent lifestyle we enjoy.”
Indeed, flexibility may be the most important physical quality when it comes to accomplishing day-to-day activities. Sure, it’s great to go for a morning jog, but you’re still in trouble if you can’t bend down to tie your sneakers first. The rewards of staying limber (and the consequences if you don’t) extend beyond the ideals of physical fitness and impact our daily lives.
The Far-Reaching Benefits of a Flexible Senior Lifestyle
While maintaining your flexibility may not help you shed a few extra pounds or improve your cholesterol, it will help you stay active and free from some common ailments people associate with getting older. According to Jim Miller, author and creator of SavvySenior.org, maintaining muscle elasticity is the underrated key to a healthy senior lifestyle. Consider the reasons:
- Accomplishing Daily Activities – From tying your shoes to reaching something on the top shelf in the kitchen, to looking over your shoulder as you back the car out of the driveway to folding laundry, flexibility allows us to accomplish our everyday tasks and pursuits. We wouldn’t get very far if we had trouble putting on our socks in the morning.
- Good for Posture & Circulation – When our muscles are limber, our bodies can relax. It’s hard to keep good posture if our back, neck, chest and shoulder muscles are stiff and sore. Flexibility improves posture, which in turn helps to keep our spine and hips in alignment and allows for better lung capacity and breathing (and this contributes to better circulation… You get the picture).
- Stress & Pain Relief – Exercises for flexibility, such as yoga, tai chi or just plain, old stretching, are designed to help relieve stress by increasing deep breathing and loosening our muscles. Staying loose and limber also helps relieve pain we feel when doing physical activities, or experience in our muscles. If you’re prone to the nightly Charlie horse, increasing the flexibility in your legs could help.
- Enhanced Balance – When your muscles and joints are flexible, it’s easier to keep your balance. A limber body can control its muscles and react quickly, keeping you upright even if you trip or slide. When muscles are tight, they don’t adjust easily to sudden change of position, and the accidental trip on the stairs could very well turn into a serious fall.
- Preventing Injuries – Similarly, when you do experience a fall or other forceful impact, the flexibility of the muscles and tendons surrounding your joints can determine whether or how bad of an injury you’ll have. When muscles are stiff, your body won’t move as easily to brace the hit. Tendons could strain, muscle could pull and fail to protect your bones and joints. But limber muscles can be the difference between a bruise and a busted hip.
Tips to Maintaining Your Flexibility
According to fitness coach and professional Eric Stevens, the loss of flexibility isn’t one of the inevitable factors of getting old. True, our joints, muscles and tendons do naturally lose elasticity with time, but we can work to get it back. Unlike strength and cardiovascular performance, flexibility doesn’t have a cap when it comes to age. So, work to increase and maintain your flexibility before you experience an injury or start to feel stiff. These tips should help you get started:
- Stretching – Experts suggest completing stretching exercises at least three times a week to keep your body flexible. Stretch your muscles to the point where they feel tight, but aren’t causing you pain. If it hurts, ease up to where the pain stops and hold there. Stretching too far too fast can cause serious injuries.
- Warm Up – Just like clay or taffy, muscles stretch better when they are warm. Consider doing stretching exercises after a few minutes of light cardio, or after you take a shower.
- Patience – If you know you’re not as flexible as you once were, don’t expect your body to respond after just a few sessions of stretching. Your muscles take time to regain elasticity. Set realistic goals for yourself and take it slow.
- Yoga & Tai Chi – If you’d rather incorporate flexibility training into strength and balance exercises, yoga and tai chi are both great ways to combine your fitness goals. Both are slow-paced and adaptable for all ability levels.
- Precaution – If you’ve had a serious injury or past surgery, talk to your doctor before you try any new exercises. Even what seems like simple stretching could cause damage to an injured part of the body.
- Examples – If you would like some examples of stretches and exercises to try, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) offer suggestions for good stretches for seniors.
Stretching Out Your Health & Happiness
At Aspired Living® of Prospect Heights, we help seniors enjoy healthy lifestyles by helping them achieve fitness goals now and in the years to come. Our wellness programs and emphasis on active senior living keep all of us accountable for making the best choices when it comes to our health.
“Physical fitness fits into our philosophy of wellness emphasized in our community’s VIVA!℠ Programming,” shares Diane. “We work with all of our residents to ensure they have access to the tools, resources and support they need to get the most out of their senior living experience. From relaxing massage therapy in our spa to exercise classes in the fitness center, our community helps seniors stay healthy in the ways that matter most.”
We Would Love to Hear from You!
If you have comments or questions about our blog, we’d love to hear from you. We also welcome you to share any caregiving insights or experiences in our comments section.
Live Well. Age Well. Be Well.
Offering Independent, Assisted Living and A Knew Day Memory Support, Aspired Living® of Prospect Heights is a distinctive senior living community designed to offer seniors residing in the Chicago Northwest Suburbs area a fresh alternative to “typical” senior living communities.
Aspired Living® of Prospect Heights provides residents with the ideal balance of personalized support, dignified privacy and enhanced independence complemented by luxurious amenities and our life-enriching, award-winning VIVA!SM programming by Pathway to Living®.
Managed by Pathway to Living®, an innovator in senior living, Aspired Living® offers the choice of a private studio or a one- or two-bedroom apartment and the beauty of a brand new community, stunningly appointed and decorated for unsurpassed comfort and style by the award-winning senior living design firm, Thoma-Holec Design, Inc.
For more information, please call Diane at 847-243-6920.
Disclaimer: The articles and tip sheets on this website are offered by Aspired Living® of Prospect Heights for general informational and educational purposes and do not constitute legal or medical advice. For legal or medical advice, please contact your attorney or physician.