Why Should I Stretch?

Improving your flexibility has a wide range of benefits. It can help you stay active longer and reduce your risk of common age-related physical ailments like strains and sprains.

Man stretching his legs

Stretching can help you stay active longer and reduce your risk of common age-related physical ailments like strains and sprains.

© FluxFactory| iStock / Getty Images Plus

Flexibility exercises like stretching and range-of-motion movements seems like the common-sense move, but many people, especially older adults, ignore their flexibility, or do exercises incorrectly, or at the wrong time, like before workouts, or do not perform them on a regular basis, so their flexibility never improves.

However, strong evidence shows that stretching and range-of-motion movements increases flexibility. The loss of flexibility can be prevented and at least partially restored by stretching. The evidence is even more compelling that a long-term stretching program can result in sustained increase in range of motion.

Improving your flexibility has a wide range of benefits. It can help you stay active longer and reduce your risk of common age-related physical ailments like strains and sprains.

Good flexibility keeps your muscles and joints strong and supple so you can continue to live a long, independent life. You will find it easier to perform everyday tasks and with less effort. For example, you need to be flexible to:

  • Walk
  • Climb stairs
  • Get out of bed or a chair
  • Get dressed and undressed
  • Get in and out of a bathtub
  • Bathe
  • Lift objects
  • Carry groceries
  • Get into and out of a vehicle
  • Drive a vehicle
  • Turn your upper body
  • Exercise Work in the yard
  • Look over your shoulder
  • Make a bed
  • Tie your shoes
  • Reach for an item a few feet away

Flexibility also helps you continue to enjoy your favorite sports and activities, like running, walking, golf, tennis, and swimming, and just enjoying an active life.

Flexibility and age

As you may have noticed, flexibility decreases with age. The exact age varies from person to person, but 50 is often the age at which people noticeably begin to lose flexibility. It may happen sooner, maybe later, but it’s going to happen unless you do something about it.

The warnings signs can be subtle at first, but then begin to worsen. You might have noticed that it’s harder to bend or twist, as in turning to see if an automobile is approaching from the side or back. You may find it more difficult to get dressed or undressed, as in pulling off or putting on a sweater, shirt, or pullover. It might become harder to swing a golf club, tennis racket, or some other piece of sports equipment. You may even develop nagging muscle strains or joint sprains more often than when you were younger.

“Joint motion becomes more restricted and flexibility decreases because of changes in tendons and ligaments,” says the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS). “The water content of tendons decreases as we age. This makes the tissues stiffer and less able to tolerate stress.”

Another way to look at it is that parts of your body are like a rubber band. A new one stretches and then quickly snaps back to its original shape. Yet, over time the band loses its elasticity, can’t stretch as far, or recoil fully.

Your body’s muscles tissues are similar to that. After decades of use and poor body mechanics, they become like a worn out rubber band.

But the effects of these physical changes don’t have to happen right now. There are ways to maintain or regain a full range of motion in some or all of your joints. A 2014 statement from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) says that much of the decline associated with aging is due to inactivity, not aging.

Other studies suggest that middle-aged and older adults can improve range of motion in the neck, shoulders, elbows, wrists, hip, knees, and ankles when certain types of flexibility exercises, including some stretches, are performed over a period of time. The AAOS says that stretching is an excellent way to help maintain joint flexibility.

Specific attention paid to stretching, according to the Cleveland Clinic, can improve flexibility in middle-aged and older adults. Increasing flexibility can make you feel younger and more energized, improve your posture, and help reduce risks for injury. When combined with a cardiovascular and strength-training regimen, flexibility exercises can help you maintain or improve overall fitness.

For more information on flexibility programs, purchase Easy Exercises for Flexibility from www.UniversityHealthNews.com.

As a service to our readers, University Health News offers a vast archive of free digital content. Please note the date published or last update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

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Jim Brown, PhD

As a former college professor of health education, Jim Brown brings a unique perspective to health and medical writing. He has authored 14 books on health, medicine, fitness, and sports. … Read More

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