Flexibility is one of the things I emphasize (you might even call it gentle nagging) with my patients. When I teach, I tell my classes I believe some of the things we consider to be unavoidable results of aging are really just a loss of flexibility in the joints due to disuse over time. Knowing we are three-fold beings – body, mind and spirit – we could talk about flexibility of the mind, but I am a frustrated student in that department; so I think I will stick to the easy(er) aspect of flexibility – keeping the joints of the physical body flexible.
One of the most frequent physical complaints I hear is “I feel so stiff and tight.” Or, “It’s so hard to get moving in the morning.” Those statements are usually followed by, “I guess I’m just getting old.” Aging is a given. We will all grow older and we will all die one day, but it doesn’t have to be a slow, painful deterioration into misery! Getting old is not the problem. The problem is that you aren’t using your body parts the way you used them when you were younger. If you don’t believe me, just watch a five-year-old for a day. As they run, jump, tumble, fall, roll, laugh and cry, is there any part of their little body that did not get used? They aren’t going to the gym, walking the treadmill, doing yoga or meditating. They are living in the moment, enjoying what their body can do and testing it to the limit.
Now, people would think you are crazy if you acted like a five-year-old, but we can take a hint from them and GET ACTIVE! Admittedly, we are not programmed for growth and repair at the same rate as a child and our environment and stress levels have taken their toll on our joints. But we can still counteract some of that by being active and using all of the joints of our body. Activity not only moves the joints, works the muscles and pumps fluids in and out of the joints, but it also gets the lymphatic system moving, which is our waste removal system. This allows toxic build-up from the air, water, food, products we use and our own metabolic processes to be moved out of the body. I believe this toxic build-up and the inflammation it causes is one of the main reasons for aches, pains and arthritis in the joints in many people.
So, if you don’t want to act like a five-year-old, how can you keep your body flexible? Your best bet is cardiorespiratory exercise coupled with joint flexibility exercise. For cardiorespiratory health, you need to do activities that keep your heart pumping and use the large muscles of your arms and legs in continuous movement. I always recommend fast, continuous walking for at least 30 minutes a day, because it is low impact (easy on the joints) and moves the muscles of the pelvis and low back in a beneficial way. For joint flexibility I usually recommend yoga. Yoga is the only form of exercise I know that builds core muscular strength, increases flexibility and counteracts the stress response by focusing the mind. How can you beat that combination?
When you think of the health of your body, remember the rule: use it or lose it! Your body is very smart and it doesn’t want to put energy into maintaining anything that isn’t being used. Body parts that are not used will deteriorate over time. To test that theory, just put your arm in a sling for about six weeks and see what happens. You will be amazed at how quickly the deterioration occurs! Of course, the mind is king, and can overrule the body. They have done amazing experiments with athletes and visualization, but that’s a topic for another day.