To understand the effects, we must first define “aging”. There are many things that age us, besides the linear passing of time:
- A poor diet high in processed foods
- Unhealthy habits like excessive alcohol consumption and smoking
- Consistently high stress levels leading to a weakened immune system
- Lack of exercise
A sedentary lifestyle (one where our daily life consists of sitting at a desk for hours on end), means we have little opportunity for much physical activity. As a result, this leads to loss of muscle mass and tight muscles. Poor flexibility is the direct result of weak, tight muscles.
Sitting for long periods of time essentially speeds up the aging process.
Despite well-intentioned fitness goals, our flexibility decreases naturally. This is due to a loss of fluid in our soft tissues and connective tissue, as well as a loss of elasticity in our muscles:
“[Flexibility is] increased rigidity of the tendons and ligaments around the joint. This is caused by changes in connective tissue collagen fibers which make up these structures. These changes include tightening of the cross-links which makes the joint less able to bend. Another cause is a reduction in elastin content which gives these structures elasticity. There is also a general deterioration in cartilage, ligaments, tendons and a reduction in fluid within the joint (synovial fluid) along with tightening and dysfunction of muscles surrounding the joint.” (Bataineh, 2021)
There is good news, though, for older people and younger people, and everyone in between.
Knowing the importance of flexibility for our overall health is the first step in slowing down any deterioration. Essentially, the impact of age on flexibility can be reduced.
There are many health benefits to maintaining our flexibility:
1. Good flexibility means we must engage in regular exercise. Therefore, if we have the goal to improve flexibility, we immediately reduce the time spent sedentary.
2. Muscle strength is a prerequisite to muscle flexibility. We need to stabilize the muscles first before pushing them into stretches. Regular strength training that targets your lower body, lower back, chest, shoulders, and arms, has been shown to positively impact our immune systems as well as lead to good balance.
3. Stretching certain groups of muscles, like the hip flexors, improves our range of motion. According to Dr. Leython Williams in this article, “Increased range of motion, balance, and mobility are all linked to flexibility and contribute to overall strength and fitness”. This potentially reduces our risk of injury: the old adage “I bend, so I don’t break” comes to mind.
4. Involuntary stretching (pandiculation) is thought to be our nervous system telling us to either wake up, or calm down and release tension. Conscious strengthening and stretching also correlate with reduced stress.
5. Stretching to improve flexibility increases blood supply to the target muscles. That blood brings with it vital nutrients and oxygen to support the function of the muscles.