Why is flexibility important to joint health?

Women stretching before an evening excerise

Flexibility refers to the range of movement in a joint. A moderate amount of flexibility lets us perform our day-to-day activities with relative ease. Walking down the stairs, getting out of bed, picking up the kids or even sitting down all require a certain amount of flexibility. Teenagers and young adults are naturally blessed with good flexibility (because of their age). But for the rest of us, flexibility is something that has to be worked on.

Without joint flexibility, our daily activities would be much more difficult to perform. Muscles would become inflexible and tire more quickly1 and muscle fatigue would set in and lead to injuries. A lack of flexibility makes the muscles and joints more susceptible to trauma1.

It’s not hard to see why flexibility is important but like most things, it deteriorates with age and sedentary lifestyles. As time goes on we create body movements and posture habits that can lead to reduced mobility of joints. Here are a few tips on maintaining and improving your flexibility2.

Stay active

This is by far the most important thing you can do to maintain and retain your flexibility. Jobs that keep you at your desk all day or other lifestyle factors that keep you sedentary can have a negative effect on your long-term joint health and flexibility. Keep moving. If your job involves you sitting at a desk all day, then make a habit of standing up every 30-40 minutes to have a quick walk around the office or just stretch your arms.

Stretch regularly

Stretching helps prevent the loss of mobility. One of the best times to stretch is after your workout, as part of your cool-down. This is when your muscles are most warm and pliable, which makes it much easier to stretch and reach new levels of flexibility.

Perform exercises designed to reduce the internal resistance

Exercises like yoga or tai chi lengthen and stretch your muscles in a safe, effective way.  These types of exercises can be done by almost anyone, regardless of age or gender. In fact, the older you are the more benefit you’ll get from them!

Joint nutrition

Good nutrition is a big part of joint health and flexibility. Like any other part of your body, your joints need good nutrition to function properly. Be sure to get your daily recommended dose of calcium and vitamin D, and drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.

Joint flexibility changes over time but some factors that influence flexibility are2:

  • The type of joint. Some joints such as the knees and shoulders are naturally more flexible than joints like the back or neck.
  • The temperature of the place where you’re exercising or training. A warmer temperature is more conducive to increased flexibility.
  • The time of day. Most people are more flexible in the afternoon than in the morning, peaking from about 2:30pm-4pm.
  • Age. Pre-adolescents are generally more flexible than adults.
  • Gender. Females are generally more flexible than males.

Flexibility can help

  • your body reach its optimum fitness level,
  • play a role in injury prevention, and
  • contribute to staving off conditions like arthritis and more serious illnesses3.

One study even found that greater flexibility is linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease3. So don’t underestimate the importance of keeping up your flexibility!

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1- UC Davis health. Sports medicine. Flexibility | UC Davis Sports Medicine. http://www.ucdmc.ucdavis.edu/sportsmedicine/resources/flexibility_descriprion.html

2- MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). Stretching. http://web.mit.edu/tkd/stretch/stretching_3.html

3- CNN Health. Increase your flexibility and improve your life. Sharon Tanenbaum. August 21, 2010. http://www.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/08/21/increase.flexibility.realsimple/

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