No one's asking you to do the splits (thank goodness!), but flexibility is an important part of fitness that you shouldn't ignore.
"Without flexibility training, the range of motion in your joints will deteriorate faster as you age," says John Higgins, MD, associate professor of medicine at The University of Texas Medical School at Houston and director of exercise physiology at the Institute for Sports Medicine and Human Performance at Memorial Hermann.
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends doing flexibility training two or three days each week. Already short on time? Don't fret — here are eight simple ways to get more flexible that you can do almost anytime, anywhere.
1. Drink Up
"When you're dehydrated, you're less flexible," Dr. Higgins says. There's less fluid in your joint capsule that enables it to move. As you age, you have less body water and lubrication around the joints. So while younger tissues and muscle fibers are like a nice tender filet mignon, Higgins says, when you're older they're more like a tougher T-bone steak. Keep your joints happy by drinking water throughout the day and eating more water-rich fruits and veggies (think strawberries and cucumbers).
2. Breathe Right
There's a reason why yoga focuses so much on breathing through movement: It's crucial for helping the muscles relax so they can get into the stretch. While most of us take shallow breaths through our upper ribs, Higgins recommends taking a deep breath through your diaphragm. You know you're doing it right if your belly button rises and falls.
3. Chair Stretch
If your job requires you to sit on your duff for hours, you may have tight hamstrings, which often leads to back pain, says Paige Denison, a national trainer and director of EnhanceFitness, an exercise program for older adults that's part of the non-profit Project Enhance. To loosen your hamstrings, sit on your chair and extend your right leg out with your heel resting on the floor. Keep the left leg bent for support. Bend forward. (Grab the chair for support if necessary). When you feel resistance, hold for 20 to 30 seconds, and then repeat three to five times on each leg.
4. Alphabet Ankles
Frequent fliers and road trippers know the discomfort of stiff ankles all too well. To loosen up your ankles, try this: Point and flex your ankles and draw big circles or each letter of the alphabet in the air with each foot. Not only will this help keep circulation going and prevent blood clots (aka deep vein thrombosis) caused by sitting for extended periods of time, but the simple exercise improves ankle mobility, which helps prevent falls, Denison says.
5. Wall Stretch
A wall can be your best friend for taking your joints through their full range of motion without overstretching. Stand facing a wall, put both hands straight out in front of you with your hands flat against the wall. Slide both hands up the wall until your shoulder joint won't go any further and hold for 20 seconds. Do this motion slowly to prevent pulling a muscle.
6. Line Up
While waiting in line at the post office or grocery store, give your calf muscles some attention. Stand on your tippy toes, then slowly lower back down to the floor. Next, pull your toes up and stand on your heels. Repeat.
7. Stroll, Then Stretch
Your body is more flexible when muscles are warm, so do flexibility stretches post-exercise. You'll want to focus on the muscles you just worked out. For example, if you come home from a walk, focus on your lower body, Higgins says. Lie flat on your back with your left leg bent and foot flat on the floor. With both hands, grab your right leg and pull it up toward your body. (Bend your knee if necessary.) When you feel resistance, hold it there for 20 to 30 seconds. Repeat three to five times on each leg.
8. Get Warm
"Anything that warms your muscles up will help your flexibility," Higgins says. Try heated yoga, tai chi or even a massage. Even better, the activities will improve relaxation, reduce stress hormones and lower your blood pressure.