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.
What can we do to change this?
When it comes to 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 too. So if you’re feeling fatigued, you’ll feel better for moving around. Give these techniques a try to help give you a boost:
Stretch out your arms & shoulders
- Knit your fingers together in front of you and lift your arms up above your head in line with your shoulders. Lift on an outward breathe and lower on an exhale.
- Behind your back (around waist height), knit your fingers together then lift up towards your shoulders. Hold for 10-15 seconds then release.
Stretches for your feet & ankles
- Rotate your ankle clockwise and then anti-clockwise three times.
- 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 on each foot.
There are tons of exercises you can do with your feet– they need a good stretch too after all!
Neck & spine stretches
- 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.
Holding a stretch in a comfortable but challenging position for a length of time, known as static stretching, actually tires the muscles out so is best performed just before bed. Simple static stretches will help with muscle memory too so will help to retain the new flexibility established during the day.
This type of stretching is just like a mini warm-up and helps to prepare the muscles for the day ahead. Active stretching involves a stretch that would entail contracting a group of muscles whilst the other set relax, this is repeated several times.
Classes to get involved with
If you find you lack a range of movement, or aren’t just finding time to fit in these exercises, attending a class can help you focus on your goal in improving flexibility. The following classes all really help to improve flexibility over time.
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 focus on working the core muscles: stomach, lower back, top of the thighs and buttocks. It also helps with body control, muscle toning and relaxation.
Tai-Chi 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 is 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.
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.
Looking for more health and fitness tips? We’ve tons! Check out some of our other reads below.