Fitness isn’t just about heart or lung health or ensuring you’re able to make it up the stairs easily, it’s not just about preventing disease. It’s about looking at your health holistically and your overall ability to be physically fit and healthy. Your ability to be flexible is as much a consideration of your fitness levels as is your ability to run/cycle/swim to a certain distance/time. If you’re relatively inflexible, you’re not really physically fit.
With as much as 70-80% of the UK population spending much of their time sitting, our ability to be flexible is becoming increasingly important, especially considering our bodies are exposed to restricted movement for much of the day.
So what can we do to change this?
As highlighted in last month’s fitness feature, muscle and joint strengthening, motion = lotion. We need to be getting up frequently from our desks and stretching and walking around. The moment we notice ourselves fidgeting, an ache anywhere in the body or a general feeling of pain, we need to be getting up.
Stretching during the day is a natural energiser; try the following techniques to help give you a boost:
Arms & shoulders– Knit your fingers together in front of you and lift your arms to shoulder height on an outward breathe and lower on an exhale; also perform this by lifting your arms over your head and then knot your fingers behind your back and raise upwards
Feet & ankles– Rotate your ankle clockwise and then anti-clockwise three times. Also try toe and heel lifts- do this by placing one foot in front of the other and with the extended foot first raise your heel and then rest the weight on your heel and lift your toes- repeat three times each foot.
Neck & spine– sitting with relaxed shoulders, tilt your chin down towards your chest whilst simultaneously imagine you’re being pulled tall by an invisible string on the crown of your head and hold the position for 3 breaths in and out, finish with a slight but gentle tilt of the head from one side to the other.
Additionally, stretching first thing in the morning and just before bed can really do wonders for your body.
Evening: Static stretching- which is holding a stretch in a comfortable but challenging position for a length of time- actually tires muscles out so is best performed just before bed. Static stretching will help with muscle memory too so will help to retain the new flexibility established during the day.
Morning: Active stretching, just like a mini warm-up, helps to prepare the muscles for the day ahead. Active stretching involves a stretch that would entail a group of muscles contract whilst the other set relax and then repeated.
Classes to get involved with:
If you find you lack in range of movement or aren’t just finding time to fit in these exercises, attending a class can help you focus on your goal. It may be worth signing up to a few classes to help improve your range of flexibility. The following classes are worth exploring:
An ancient practice that is holistic in its approach. Yoga helps to develop physical, mental and spiritual health by connecting the mind to the body through a range of movements. As the positions generally entail control of movement, it entails a mindful attitude. Primarily, Yoga is excellent for improving flexibility to a wider range of muscle groups.
Pilates is often compared to Yoga; although both are similar in the focus of improving flexibility, posture and use of movement that entails a focused, meditative process, there are some striking differences. Pilates movements generally focuses on the core- stomach, lower back, top of the thighs and buttocks- to conduct each position. It also helps with body control, muscle toning and relaxation.
Is a great practice for improving posture, balance, helps with flexibility and range of movement. It’s also renowned for improving breathing function and aiding in relaxation.
It’s particularly good for those aged 65+, experience problematic and painful conditions such as arthritis and osteoporosis and more generally for those that lead quite sedative lifestyles.
Even if active already, Tai-Chi is excellent for improving posture and relaxation- something we could all benefit from greatly.
Is an underestimated form of exercise- dancing will not only help with aerobic fitness, range of movement (and therefore your flexibility), it’ll help with coordination, muscle and joint strengthening and quickly burns calories too. Depending on the classes you take, it may entail developing team working skills, build your competitive edge and if dancing is your thing, will release lots of those happy endorphins to give you, quite literally a buzz! Try a range of classes out to find a style that suits you most and just look out for those immediate benefits.