Contributed by Carole Clausen, Fellowship Senior Living, Personal Trainer

Staying physically active is important for maintaining a fit and healthy lifestyle, and flexibility is a key component that contributes to physical fitness and well-being.

Flexibility relates to the amount of movement or range of motion available to each joint. Some joints are designed to have only a little movement, while others are designed to have a lot of movement. Joint motion allows us to reach above our heads and bend down to pick something up from the floor. Good range of motion enables us to be more mobile; it supports balance and may reduce the risk of falling.

Flexibility is also related to muscle length. Muscles need to be certain lengths in order to achieve full range of motion. Most muscles provide movement around a single joint; however, some enable movement around two joints. For example, the hamstring muscles on the back of the thighs work to bend the knee and extend the hip. If the hamstring muscles are shortened or tight, the range of motion for those joints is limited.

Stretching is the best way to enhance flexibility. Proper stretching, especially when completed two to three times a week, can help avoid muscle cramping and loss of motion around a joint, improve posture and promote physical and mental relaxation.

Stretching programs should include the major muscle groups of the arms and legs. Plan to stretch the calves, hips, thighs, lower back, neck and shoulders.

Proper technique is crucial for successful stretching. If your body is not positioned correctly, the target muscle may not be activated. Here are some stretching tips:

  • Stretch to the point of tension and never to a point of pain. It may be slightly uncomfortable, but should not be painful
  • Wait for an injured joint to heal before starting a stretching program
  • Hold your stretch for 10 seconds and avoid bouncing
  • Don’t forget to breathe throughout the stretch
  • Slowly release the stretch and allow the muscles to relax