You've Got to be Flexible
By Editorial Staff
Flexibility is the ability to move the joints and muscles through a normal range of motion, and it's an important fitness measure; in fact, it's one of the five health-related components of physical fitness, along with muscular strength, muscle endurance, cardiorespiratory endurance and body composition. We lose flexibility as we age, which means we need to develop it while we're young and then maintain it when we're older.
Here are just a few of the health benefits attributable to a regular flexibility and stretching program:
OK, now you know why flexibility is so important. Let's talk about how to make stretching/flexibility a part of your weekly routine. According to the Mayo Clinic, there are six essential guidelines to keep in mind when stretching:
With the why and how in your memory bank, all you need now is a few minutes a day at least three days a week, or every time you exercise, to get flexible and stay flexible. Here are a five simple stretches (again courtesy of the Mayo Clinic) you can start doing right away:
Bend your head forward and slightly to the right to stretch the left side of your neck. With your right hand, gently pull your head downward, stretching the back left side of your neck. Hold for 30-60 seconds and repeat on the opposite side.
The Shoulder Stretch
Bring your left arm across the body and hold it with your right arm above or below the elbow. Hold for 30-60 seconds, switch arms and repeat. To stretch the internal rotators of the shoulder (important if you participate in tennis, golf or other overhead/throwing/swinging sports), hold a rolled-up towel vertically with both hands. One hand should hold the top of the towel and the other hand should hold the bottom of the towel. Now gently pull the towel toward the ceiling with your top hand, stretching the shoulder on your opposite arm. Hold for 30-60 seconds, switch top hand and repeat.
The Calf Stretch
Stand at arm's length from a wall or any otherwise sturdy structure. Put your right foot behind your left foot and slowly bend your left leg forward, keeping the right knee straight and the right heel on the ground. Keep your back straight and your hips and feet facing forward. Hold for 30-60 seconds, and then switch legs and repeat.
The Hamstring Stretch
Lie on the floor near the outer corner of a wall or door frame. With your left heel resting against the wall and your left knee bent slightly, straighten your left leg until you feel a stretch along the back of your left thigh. Hold the stretch for 30 to 60 seconds, switch legs and repeat.
The Knee-to-Chest Stretch
Lie on your back on a firm surface. Your knees and hips should be bent, and the backs of your heels should stay flat on the floor. Slowly pull one knee to your chest until you feel a stretch in your lower back. Keep the opposite leg relaxed in a comfortable position, with your knee bent or the leg extended. Bring the knee as close to the chest as possible without experiencing discomfort, hold for 30-60 seconds and repeat with the opposite leg.
Note: The Mayo Clinic recommends osteoporosis patients avoid the knee-to-chest stretch to prevent possible compression fractures of the vertebrae.
And there you have it: why flexibility matters and what you can do to make sure you're as flexible as possible. If you have any questions regarding how to do a particular stretch or if you believe an existing health condition could limit you from safely performing a flexibility routine, talk to your doctor first.
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