A plan for flexibility

Flexibility is like the famous joke about the weather often attributed to Mark Twain: “Everyone talks about it, but no one ever does anything about it.”

People understand the importance of good flexibility as they age. Flexibility keeps them active and helps them safely perform everyday movements.

Still, most would admit they lack flexibility and don’t give it the necessary attention, says Danielle Nardi, a doctor of physical therapy with Harvard-affiliated Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital. “Flexibility is something that most older people can improve with some effort and commitment.”

Short supply

Flexibility is your muscles’ ability to stretch. Natural muscle loss, too much sitting, and generally being less active can cause muscles to “shorten” or “tighten.” This makes movement difficult.

The main areas of poor flexibility are the hamstrings (the muscles on the backs of your thighs), the hip flexors (which help you walk, kick, bend, and twist your hips), and the pectoral (chest) muscles. “These muscles are often most affected by age and being too sedentary,” says Nardi.

You don’t have to devote much time to flexibility to feel and see the benefits. “But you do need consistency for the best outcome,” says Nardi. “You can’t work on it here and there and expect positive results.”

Take measure of your flexibilityThere are no standard home tests to measure flexibility. However, you can estimate your weakest spots by how well you perform everyday tasks. For instance, can you bend over to tie your shoes, or do you need to place your foot on a chair? Do you have trouble pulling on socks (and, if so, on both feet or just one)? Do you struggle with putting on a shirt when you have to raise your arms and reach up or back? “Keep in mind that everyone comes in different sizes and body types, and even though you may not have much trouble with these tasks, you could still lack adequate flexibility,” says Danielle Nardi, a doctor of physical therapy with Harvard-affiliated Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital.

Time to stretch

Here are three stretches to improve overall flexibility you can do in less than 10 minutes. They focus on the three main problem areas: hamstrings, hip flexors, and pectorals.

Try to do this routine every day at first, on its own or as part of your regular workout. “As you progress, monitor how well your daily movements improve, but be mindful that it takes time to notice changes,” says Nardi.

Standing hamstring stretch. Too much sitting and too little activity are the leading causes of tight hamstrings.

  • Stand tall and place your left heel in front of you on a step. (You can use a stair step, exercise step, or a sturdy object of a similar height.)
  • Keeping your back straight, slowly bend forward at your hips until you feel a gentle stretch in the back of your left thigh.
  • Hold the stretch for up to 30 seconds. Switch leg positions and repeat the stretch on the other side to complete one set. Do two sets.

Standing hip flexor stretch. Excessive sitting is also the culprit for tight hip flexors.

  • Stand tall and place one foot on a chair seat. Keeping your spine straight, slowly push your hips forward with your pelvis tucked until you feel a stretch in the front of the hip of your standing leg.
  • Hold the stretch for up to 30 seconds. Switch leg positions and repeat the stretch on the other side to complete one set. Do two sets.

Doorway pec stretch. The works your pectoral muscles and helps with reaching and avoiding a rounded posture.

  • Stand in front of an open doorway with your feet hip-width apart. Place your forearms, with your hands up, against the sides of the doorway at about shoulder height.
  • Slowly step forward with your left foot until you feel a stretch in the front of your shoulders.
  • Hold the stretch for up to 30 seconds. Repeat the stretch with the right foot forward to complete one set. Do two sets.

Bible verses for today’s meditation and inspiration: Matthew E. McLaren

Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. 5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Collation 3:2-5

5 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:

7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:

8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

9 Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name:

10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;

11 And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:5-11 (KJV)

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