Flexibility, as with any aspect of fitness, if you don’t use it, you lose it. And, as we age we tend to challenge our full range of motion less and less which allows our muscles, tendons, and fascia to tighten. Our decrease in going through full ranges of motion may stem from injuries, arthritis, or simply becoming more sedentary.
“You know you’re getting old when you stoop to tie your shoelaces and wonder what else you could do while you’re down there.” – George Burns
If an injury has got you moving less, get it checked out by your doctor. Do what you need to get it fixed or let it heal, then gradually stretch the area to regain any lost mobility.
Arthritis, and the pain associated with it, can definitely cause us to move less and through smaller ranges of motion. The guidelines, however, whether it’s rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis, are to exercise through as full a range of motion as is tolerable. This includes working through pain. Contrary to what many people believe, a well-designed and performed exercise program will not make the arthritis worse. The result is actually less pain overall and greater strength, stability, flexibility and function of the joint.
Loss of mobility from being sedentary is common because many people are less active as they get older. It’s lost over time and it will take time to regain it, but you can regain it with work.
So, when it comes to aging and loss of flexibility, know that with some stretching and strengthening, you can improve what you have lost and possibly regain it all.
As a personal trainer, I’ll ask clients what their goals are and occasionally I get an answer like, “At my age, I’ll be happy if I can just go up and down the stairs without getting winded.” Then I’ll look back down at their medical history and see that they are only 52. This always prompts me to ask, “How many years do you think you have left?” Usually they will say they hope to live into their 80’s or 90’s. Well that’s thirty to forty years to go. What are those years going to look like? Are you going to spend twenty years in a walker or a wheelchair? That doesn’t sound like much fun. Just because we’ve hit 50 (or 60, or 70…) doesn’t suddenly mean that we are done, that we are no longer physical beings.
The truth is that we have been conditioned by what has come before. In our parents era, it was believed that we would lose a certain % of our muscle and flexibility and gain a certain % of fat every decade beyond our twenties. Pretty depressing. Well, the truth is that we would see those declines when we slowed down and didn’t continue to challenge ourselves physically. Think about it. We finished playing our sports in high school and college, got a 9-5 job, got home after work and just wanted to relax. As we did less, we are able to do less. It truly is “use it or lose it.” The good news is that most of what we saw as age related declines (also called sarcopenia) were because of the activity decreases and that does not need to be our fate. Whether you have been on that downward slope or just want to make sure you stay off that path as long as you can, the right exercises and diet can keep you fit and able to do what you want well into our final years.
Back to the original question, how many years do you have left? Here’s the follow up question, of those years, how many of them would you like to still be able to do what you want and enjoy? You can choose how you want those years to play out. Don’t settle for climbing stairs when you can climb mountains.