Active Seniors

Good health is a bit of a stretch

The words flexibility and mobility are often used interchangeably, however they are different in their meanings. The word flexibility is used to describe how well our joints move and our tissues can stretch so that we can move our joints through their complete ranges. Commonly people measure their flexibility by seeing how easily they can reach towards their toes, however this tests not only our flexibility but also our mobility. Mobility refers to our ability to control the movements of our joints, particularly as they near the limits of their range.


Healthy bodies need a good balance of both flexibility and mobility. In fact it is almost impossible to have good health in one without the other. Without good flexibility, our joints cannot reach their maximum potential as the tissues or joints themselves limit how far we can move. This compromises our mobility. Similarly, without good mobility we cannot take advantage of the flexibility in our joints because we do not have the control to move into those positions.


A regular flexibility and mobility exercise routine can have some surprising and rewarding benefits. The obvious benefit most people are aware of is the improvement in how far we can move and stretch our bodies which makes day to day activities easier. Aside from this, some of the other benefits which are lesser known include improvements in pain and discomfort, improvements in mood and focus, reductions in stress levels and improved blood vessel health with decreased blood pressure and arterial stiffness. The only downside to these changes is that they stop fairly abruptly when we get out of a regular routine with the exercises, so discipline and consistency are key.


There are many different ways to improve our flexibility and mobility. The first, and most common type of exercises are stretching exercises. Stretching exercises can be broken down into two broad types; static and dynamic. As the names suggest, static stretches involve moving into a position where the tissues are lengthened (or stretched) and holding this position for a given period of time. Reaching down towards your toes and holding this position is the easiest example that most people have tried before. In contrast, dynamic stretches involve rhythmic movements of the joint that take the surrounding tissues from their shortest to their longest positions. An example of this are the leg swings that you commonly see soccer and football players performing before they play. Both methods of stretching are associated with a short term improvement in our flexibility and mobility, however unlike dynamic stretches which are a great way to warm up, static stretches are best saved for the end of your exercise session as they can reduce your muscle strength for a brief period after they are performed.


There has been an increase in the number of “tools” and objects used to improve flexibility and mobility. Some examples of these include foam rollers, massage sticks and spiky balls. All of these tools are aimed at increasing blood flow and gentle heat in the area they are applied to, and can also help to improve the movement of fluid between the layers of connective tissue. They are all associated with a short term improvement in flexibility and mobility after use, and there are some suggestions that they may assist with recovery after an exercise session. The foam rollers and massage sticks are recommended at the start or during an exercise session, while the spiky balls (or other hard balls) are better suited for the end of a session.


With all flexibility and mobility techniques it is essential that you move into and out of the stretch or apply pressure using a tool gently and slowly. If we move too quickly or press too hard, the body will usually react by tightening the muscles and preventing us from getting maximum benefit. With mobility and flexibility exercises the “no pain no gain” motto definitely does not apply. It is important to only work into a position where you have mild discomfort rather than any sharp strong stretching or painful sensations. We often describe pain as being “good” pain or “bad” pain, with good pain describing the type of discomfort that is within our tolerance and also that feels as though it is helpful.


As with any exercises, it is a good idea to talk to a health professional to determine what specific areas of your body you should target with flexibility and mobility exercises and to show you the correct technique that allows you to get optimal benefit.

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