Boosting flexibility as you age
As we age, our muscles and ligaments lose elasticity and our joints suffer due to an inactive lifestyle, stress, or improper posture and movement habits.
Therefore, fitness experts say it’s crucial to work on your flexibility as you reach middle age. They recommend incorporating simple stretches or yoga poses into your daily routine to help your body stay flexible, increase your range of motion, and decrease the risk of tendon tears and other injuries, in addition to reducing feelings of stress or anxiety.
Regular stretching can help improve your posture, reduce stress and body aches, and delay the reduced mobility that can come with aging. It can also help to keep the muscles flexible, strong, and healthy. We need flexibility to maintain a range of motion in the joints. Without it, the muscles shorten and become tight. When you later call on your muscles for activity, they are weak and unable to extend all the way. That puts you at risk for joint pain, strains, and muscle damage,
Here are some recommended stretching exercises and yoga poses that you can incorporate into your daily routine to maintain flexibility, strengthen the connective tissues, and prime your body for an active life.
Head to knee
Head to knee: This pose can help to improve flexibility in your back, hips, and thighs. It can also help to increase blood flow in the lower abdomen and can be a great stress reliever.
Sit on the floor and extend your right leg in front of you. Press your left heel into the inside of your thigh. Inhale and clasp your hand and raise your arms overhead. Exhale and bend to fold forward towards your right foot below the toes. Touch your forehead to your right knee. You can raise your knee from the floor if required. Hold the pose for 30 seconds. Switch legs and do the opposite side.
Bow pose: This can improve posture and strengthen the back as it helps to stretch many of the muscles that are used when sitting. It can also help to increase flexibility in your core muscles as well as the muscles in your back, chest, hips, and thighs.
Lie face down with your hands along your sides and gaze towards the front. Inhale slowly. Exhale and bring your heels as close to your backside as you can. Reach back and grasp your ankles. Inhale and slowly raise your upper body and thighs off the floor, keeping your knees hip-width apart. Relax your shoulders, look upward, and try to straighten your legs. Simultaneously, lift the thighs away from the floor. Hold for 30 seconds, then rest for 20 seconds. While doing these two actions, firmly press your shoulder blades against the back and gaze forward. Repeat two more times to improve the blood circulation in your back.
Shoulder rolls: This is a straightforward exercise that can help to diffuse tension and open up your ribs for easier breathing. It can also help to maintain and increase the range of motion in your arms and upper back.
Start in a position of proper alignment. Slowly roll your shoulders forward in big circles. Repeat in a fluid motion about ten times and then reverse the motion and roll your shoulders up then back another ten times. If you feel any shakiness while doing the exercise, it’s recommended to stop and try again on a second day.
Cat-cow pose: The combination of these two poses helps to warm up your spine and relieve back, shoulder, and neck tension.
Place your hands and knees on the floor. Make sure your knees are under your hips, and your wrists are under your shoulders. Begin in a neutral spine position, with your back flat and your abs engaged. Take a big deep breath. On the exhale, round your spine up towards the ceiling and imagine you're pulling your belly button up towards your spine. Tuck your chin towards your chest, and let your neck release. This is your cat-like shape.
On your inhale, arch your back and let your belly relax and go loose. Lift your head and tailbone up towards the sky without putting any unnecessary pressure on your neck. This is the cow portion of the pose. Continue flowing back and forth from cat pose to cow pose. Connect your breath to each movement: inhale for the cow pose and exhale on the cat pose. Repeat for at least 10 rounds, or until your spine is warmed up.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 19 August, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly