Here is how being flexible can benefit you
Flexibility exercises can enhance muscle health, improve balance, and have a positive impact on your overall well-being.
Young man stretching by the beach. Picture: iStock
Poor flexibility can impact your health and well-being in several ways. You may experience muscle fatigue, stress on your muscles and inadequate joint health. Increasing your flexibility helps you to avoid these problems and reap various benefits.
Improved muscle condition
One way to reduce injuries and improve the condition of your muscles is through flexibility enhancing activities such as foam-rolling and dynamic stretching.
Foam-rolling can help to loosen tight muscles and is particularly useful if you have contracted muscles that fail to fully release. When using a foam roller along the length of your muscle, you are encouraging it to return to its original and intended length.
Having lengthened muscles that are not tight or contracted will improve your flexibility. Stretching increases the blood flow to your muscles.
This improved circulation nourishes your muscles and helps rid them of waste by-products. Improved circulation can help to shorten your recovery time, particularly after a hard workout.
This is particularly important if you have had injuries like a pulled or a strained muscle. One option is dynamic stretching before your workout and foam-rolling after.
Research shows dynamic stretching boosts muscle strength and decreases muscle stiffness.
Having good balance is something many people take for granted, yet it can help make you lighter on your feet and improve your athletic performance. It is also important as you age because it can help to prevent injuries and falls.
Better flexibility and balance can also help to strengthen the core and improve stability. One study asked a group of over 65s to take part in stretching and mobility exercises twice a week for 12 weeks. They experienced improved balance, which decreased their risk of falls. They also showed improved flexibility and lumbar strength.
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Reduced risk of injury
When combined with exercise, flexibility can reduce back pain and stiffness. Aerobic exercise increases blood flow to soft tissues and muscles, while flexibility improves the range of movement for muscles, ligaments and tendons. When muscles and the surrounding structures are well nourished and mobile, there is less likelihood of injury.
If you are looking to reduce the risk of injury, research suggests specifically stretching the muscles in the back, hamstrings and hip flexors may help. Stretching can even help you in everyday activities like walking, bending and reaching.
The act of stretching lengthens muscles and improves blood flow (which promotes recovery and healing), so investing a few minutes in gentle, targeted stretching may pay off in the long run.
Tips for fitting stretching into an overbooked schedule
If you don’t have time to warm up before stretching, try doing a few stretches immediately after a shower or while soaking in a hot tub.
The hot water elevates body and muscle temperature enough to make them more receptive to stretching. Try a few simple stretches before getting out of bed in the morning. Wake yourself up with a few full-body stretches by gently pointing the toes and reaching your arms above your head. This can clear your mind and help jump-start your morning. Take a stretching class such as yoga or tai chi. Scheduling classes will help you to adhere to a regular stretching programme.