10.15.2020 – How Flexibility Impacts the Aging Process
By Traveling Trainer Rebekah Fasel
OCTOBER 15, 2020 – The ability to move freely has a huge impact on quality of life and, as we get older, whether because of injury or simply because of the aging process, many people experience a decrease in flexibility and mobility which inhibits their ability to move as easily as they would like. While this may just be a frustrating side effect of getting older, it can also lead to serious injury. Inhibited movement may lead to trouble balancing or even a fall, from which it could be difficult or even impossible to get up without assistance. However, the good news is that flexibility and mobility can not only be maintained but also can drastically improved with practice and strength training resulting in increased stability which makes everyday activities like driving a car or housework much, much easier.
Both flexibility and mobility directly affect how well a joint functions, and healthy joints are the key to longevity. Flexibility refers to a muscle’s ability to stretch and contract whereas mobility refers to a joint’s ability to move in its full range of motion. In order for a joint to be fully mobile, each of the muscles surrounding it must be synchronized in their flexibility, or in other words those muscles must be equally balanced in their ability to stretch and return to their original position. If those muscles are out of balance, movement may be possible in one direction but extremely difficult in another. In a worst case scenario, stiff muscles may so limit mobility that a joint becomes hard to use at all.
A commonly held, though unfortunately incorrect, belief is that flexibility can be improved by stretching alone, and that practicing moving a joint to its end range motion alone will teach muscles to loosen and contract more easily. This is frequently not the case. Many times, muscles are in fact tight because they are lacking strength. A muscle which is locked tight is usually protecting itself from strain and tear by refusing to move out of the range in which it can safely avoid injury. It is frustratingly common to see people give up on increasing their flexibility because even avid and regular stretching yields little to no results. However, the great news is that flexibility, and therefore mobility as well, can be improved with strength training! Loading a weak and/or tight muscle will give it the reinforcement it needs to be able to relax and stretch further, and doing so regularly will make the muscles relax not just when actively stretching, but generally and when in repose. A trainer can help to determine which muscles need this kind of rehabilitation, and work with you to increase mobility, making your every day movements more comfortable and easy.