What makes one person more flexible than another?
As we age we tend to lose our flexibility. Collagen production slows down as we age. Collagen is what makes our connective tissue flexible. Also, having an inactive lifestyle and not moving regularly throughout your lifetime can accelerate your inflexibility as you age. We can counter this natural process with movement, exercise, massage, diet, supplements and light therapies.
Gender and Genetics
Are women really more flexible than men? Well, yes and no. Genetically, women can be more flexible because they are capable of reproduction. When women cycle monthly, there are hormones that are produced that can increase the flexibility of connective tissue (meaning facia, muscles, tendons and ligaments). That being said, some people regardless of gender are more flexible than others. Do not underestimate the power of habits and lifestyle. Women tend to focus on activities that require more flexibility such as yoga, dance and Pilates.
Nutrition and hydration will play a factor in our flexibility for sure. What we eat can have an effect on how our bodies move and function, which extends to flexibility. Food can be like medicine. Some foods can energize us and others will make us feel sluggish and can create inflammation in our bodies. Compromised tissue is less flexible and will not function efficiently.
How can you improve your flexibility?
Improve your body awareness. Pay attention to your body and how you are moving, sitting, laying down. The body likes to be dynamic, meaning it likes to move. Holding positions for extended periods of time can make for tight connective tissue. Movement keeps things pliable and fluid so we can have more movement.
Posture awareness. While sitting or standing, position your body into an aligned, stable posture. Keep your head over your shoulders, shoulders relaxed down and back, hips in a neutral position, knees soft and weight evenly distributed over your feet. This takes some time to figure out, a little education is worth the rewards to feel what that is like in your body so when you think of it in your daily living you can make the micro adjustments and yes this will promote flexibility!
Movement. Regular movement (strengthening and stretching) will go a long way to improve the quality of your connective tissue, flexibility and quality of life.
Sit on the Floor. This may sound a little strange but think about how children move. Children are far more flexible than adults. They move in all directions and sit on the floor. As adults we stop doing that. There is research that shows a neurogenic facilitation that happens when we get on the floor and move, especially when we move reciprocally, meaning things like crawling and rolling. Additionally, as we age, it is worth the effort to be able to get up from and down to the floor.
Include stretching and mobility in your exercise routine. We spend a lot of time strengthening and doing cardiovascular activity, which is great. However, as we age, we need to shift our training a bit to include stretching and mobility training to counter the decline in flexibility.
Don't wait for a workout to work on your flexibility. We can include stretching in our daily routine. When you are sitting at the computer, take a break. Move and stretch your head, neck and shoulders throughout the day. Get up from the chair every hour and walk around. While you're standing in line at the grocery store you can weight shift on your feet, up on your toes/ back on heels, left/right, do isometric contractions of shoulder, legs and hips, and practice deep belly breathing. These simple additions to what you’re doing in your day can have great health benefits, both physically and emotionally.
Spending a few minutes each day stretching can help with flexibility. This can create more body awareness and help you to be present in your body. Many of us check out because it feels too hard to be present in our bodies. We are worth the time and effort it takes to do these things everyday.
Include stretching into your bodywork sessions. What??? This is a great idea. Assisted stretching with massage will help not only to loosen your muscles but can help make your sessions more effective. When you get a massage the practitioner will soften and warm the tissue and, when and where appropriate, can stretch tight areas. This can be more effective than what we can do on our own. That is win-win.
Celluma or Red-Light Therapies. This is a relatively new idea. The research is out there about red-light therapies and effectiveness in reducing muscle tension, tissue healing, collagen production, inflammation. There are many positive effects that light therapy can have.
There are many options available to us to increase our flexibility. Staying aware of the way our body feels will mean living with less pain for longer into our later years. If you have any questions about your personal flexibility level and how you can implement some changes to increase flexibility, let me know.
With nearly 20 years of massage therapy experience, small business ownership, and years of injury recovery as a Physical Therapist Assistant, Linda Addario is a highly sought after Licenced Massage Therapist in the Capital District of New York. She is hard at work partnering with her clients to reach and maintain wellness goals at the Bodyworks Wellness Center, teaching continuing education classes at the Center for Natural Wellness School of Massage Therapy, and mentoring up and coming massage therapists to improve and grow their practices.