Easy Ways to Become More Flexible
Why is Flexibility Important?
Quite often, we see people spend an hour on a treadmill or elliptical machine at a gym to burn off some calories, but spare no time for simple stretching to increase their flexibility. If you're one of those who think limberness is necessary for only circus contortionists but not the average person, you are very wrong. Flexibility has a lot to do with our muscle fitness and overall health. Even if you are not planning to become an Olympian gymnast or a yoga guru, being flexible can still benefit you in more ways than you might think.
Muscle Strength - In an article on CNN Health, David Geier, the director of sports medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina, states that flexibility is "the third pillar of fitness" along with cardiovascular exercise and strength training. By stretching regularly, our muscle fibers will gradually lengthen and loosen up instead of remaining tightly attached to the bone. As those fibers become longer and more flexible, your muscle also has more potential to become larger and stronger if met by a proper strength training and cardio routine.
Weight Control - Since lengthened muscle fibers can lead to bigger and stronger muscle mass, a faster metabolism is another plus point you can bet on. Increased flexibility can also make workout routines or daily activities that used to be such a pain become more doable, thus allowing you to adopt a more active lifestyle.
Injury Prevention - Pulled muscles and ankle sprains don't just happen to the aged and the clumsy. These injuries can happen to people of all fitness levels, especially those with inflexible bodies. Tight muscles and tendons restrict your range of motion. When your body is so inflexible, one little awkward movement could stretch certain muscles beyond their limit, causing a strain or a tear.
Disease Prevention - Believe it or not, being flexible may help prevent an array of illnesses. As mentioned earlier, muscle elasticity can increase your level of activity, help you develop stronger muscle and maintain healthy weight. Accordingly, you should be able to ward off certain health problems related to obesity, including heart disease, strokes and diabetes. Furthermore, those with better flexibility usually have better blood circulation. Poor blood circulation is a culprit of many health issues, from chronic fatigue and vertigo to kidney disease and blood clots. With a few minutes of daily stretching, you might be able to keep these problems at bay.
How to Become More Flexible
One word: stretch! The idea that people who aren't naturally limber will always remain that way is a misconception. Flexibility is something that can be developed regardless of how old you are. True, not everyone was born to be a contortionist, but a healthy level of flexibility is achievable for anyone.
Taking yoga classes can be extremely helpful if you try to reach your optimal level of flexibility. If you simply hope to be feel less stiff and get more fit, however, 10 - 15 minutes of daily stretching should be quite enough. For some, it might take only a few weeks to notice a difference. For others, it might take months. Being consistent is key. Make it a routine. Allot a specific time each day to stretch those muscles.
Ideally, you should stretch the muscles and joints in every part of your body from the neck to the feet. However, since we don't all have the same occupations, hobbies and lifestyles, the muscle groups to which we should pay extra attention might be different. High-heel lovers, for example, need to spend more time to stretch their ankles and foot arches than sneaker wearers do. For office workers who hunch over a computer from eight to five, their shoulders, backs and hips would likely need extra stretching; whereas for waiters and supermarket cashiers who are routinely on their feet, their hamstrings and ankles are the areas to focus on.
My Easy Stretching Routines - Overview
Target Body Parts
ankle, foot arches, toes
Office Yoga (Chair Yoga)
neck, shoulders, back, hips
Wake Up Yoga (Yoga in Bed)
shoulders, arms, back, legs
This stretching routine is beneficial for everyone, but more so for runners, hikers, people who enjoy long walks, diabetics with foot neuropathy, high-heel wearers, and those who have to remain standing at their workplace on a regular basis. These easy exercises not only help stretch and strengthen your foot muscles and ligaments, but also increase blood circulation to the feet and prevent numerous foot problems, such as hammertoe, bunion, arch strain and foot cramps.
Office Yoga (Chair Yoga)
Too busy to attend a yoga class? No problem! Try this office yoga routine right at your desk. Being seated all day long can lower your hip range of motion and shorten your muscle fibers, resulting in muscle stiffness and poor blood circulation. Taking a break from your work for just 10 - 15 minutes a day to complete this routine can help you maintain flexibility in several parts of your body, especially your back and hips. What's more, yoga has proven to calm the mind, reduce anxiety, improve concentration and combat a mental overload.
Wake Up Yoga - Morning Yoga in Bed
Yes, you can stretch and get some exercise without even leaving your bed! Doesn't that sound fabulous? Most people experience muscle stiffness in the morning. That's why stretching in the wee hours might be an excellent idea. This wake-up yoga routine is designed to stretch your shoulders, arms, back and legs. It gets your blood circulation going as well as invigorates all your limbs and extremities, preparing your entire body for the long day ahead of you.
Foods for Flexibility
Drink plenty of water - Our muscles are surrounded by a layer of cobweb-like connected tissues called fascia. Fascia contains collagen, elastin fibers and water. One of its major roles is to facilitate movement of the muscles that it encases. If your body is well hydrated, your fascia will absorb water like a sponge, and act as a lubrication for your joints and muscles. Dehydrated fascia, on the contrary, results in tight muscles, stiff joints, and limited range of motion. So drink up! The recommended daily water intake for the average person is a half ounce per pound of bodyweight. For example, if you weigh 180 lbs., you should drink about 90 ounces of water per day.
Eat anti-inflammatory foods - Certain foods, such as sugar, deep-fried products and alcohol, are highly inflammatory. When you consume a high amount of them on a regular basis, it can cause chronic inflammation in your body, which leads to joint stiffness and muscle pain, as well as a host of other illnesses, such as rheumatoid arthritis, headaches, allergies, eczema, and inflammatory bowel disease. By simply switching to an anti-inflammatory diet, you can improve both your muscle flexibility and overall health. Some of the best inflammation-fighting foods are olive oil, berries, kelp, cruciferous vegetables, wild salmon, turmeric and green tea.
***Keep in mind, though, that hydration and anti-inflammatory foods alone may not suffice. To achieve a healthy level of flexibility, daily stretching is a must!***