Simon says, “Touch your toes.” Sounds easy enough, but as we age our bodies seem to stiffen up and lose some of their flexibility, adding a whole new level of difficulty to this simple child’s game.
Flexibility and range of motion are directly related to the health of our joints. Joints are the areas where bones come together. They allow our skeletons to move and bend. Bones do not come in direct contact within the joint, but are cushioned by cartilage, membranes, fluid and connective tissues.
“Certain changes that take place in our connective tissues as we age can have an impact on our flexibility and range of motion,” says Brett Sweitzer, MD, attending orthopedic surgeon at Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia and Einstein Medical Center Montgomery. “Fluid in the joints may decrease, cartilage may begin to wear away, and connective tissue may thicken. All of this can contribute to decreased flexibility.”
“Lifestyle also plays an important role,” continues Dr. Sweitzer. “Older people tend to exercise less for a number of reasons—injury, pain, arthritis, etc.—and we spend much of our time as adults sitting at desks, in our cars and on our couches. Joints that are not used due to decreased exercise and a sedentary lifestyle become tight and stiff.”
Although it may be more difficult to remain flexible in our older years, don’t give up on those toe touches just yet.
“Regular exercise helps increase overall flexibility, and flexibility can increase your resistance to injuries and decrease chronic pain,” says Dr. Sweitzer. “Stretching also increases blood flow to muscles and can make you feel more energized as well.”
Stretching three days per week can make a tremendous impact on flexibility and overall health. Each stretch should be held for 10-30 seconds with three or four repetitions. And be sure to warm up with some light cardiovascular exercise before you begin stretching.
“Muscles lengthen in the heat and contract in the cold,” says Dr. Sweitzer. “Warming up prior to stretching can improve the quality of the stretch and help avoid injury.”