When you think of exercise and fitness, you probably think of hitting the gym and working up a sweat. But you might also want to think about improving your flexibility. Being able to fully move your joints is just as important as strength training or getting your heart rate up.
Being flexible has plenty of benefits, including helping you avoid getting hurt. And, according to the Cleveland Clinic, working on your flexibility should be part of any complete exercise routine, along with aerobic activity, such as jogging or walking, and exercises that tone and strengthen your muscles.
Flexibility is affected partly by the amount of activity you get. The less active you are, the less flexible you are probably going to be, according to the Mayo Clinic. But, the Clinic notes, your level of flexibility is partly out of your control — it can also be affected by your gender, age, and genetics.
So, we’ve put together a list of some of the reasons you should focus on your flexibility, and some tips to improve your range of motion.
1. Being flexible can improve your posture
Your muscles and joints have to be able to move easily and normally for you to have good posture, the Cleveland Clinic states. Furthermore, good posture is important partly because it protects your muscles, joints, and ligaments.
Your posture can also help you move more efficiently so your muscles don’t get tired as quickly, according to the clinic.
2. Working to improve your flexibility can help you relax
Practicing yoga, stretching, or doing other exercises to help you increase your flexibility can help you mentally and physically relax. Those exercises give you time to meditate or reflect, according to exercise science experts Len Kravitz and Vivian H. Heyward. Plus, Kravitz and Heyward wrote, some fitness instructors and doctors even consider flexibility exercises, along with overall fitness, as one way to unify your mind, body and spirit.
3. Flexibility can increase your blood circulation
Stretching, yoga, or other movement-related exercises can up the amount of blood that flows to your muscles, the Mayo Clinic explains. Good circulation is important for your cells and organs, and will help you feel healthier overall.
4. Being flexible can help you move better
If you have back pain, one reason might be because your muscles are too tight. If you aren’t flexible, you might also have trouble reaching above your head to do simple chores, such as putting dishes away on high shelves, according to the American College of Sports Medicine.
5. Being flexible can keep you from getting hurt
You are more likely to get hurt if your joints can’t fully move. The Human Performance Resource Center says that if you are an athlete, flexibility is even more important. This is because you might not be at your best if you can’t move your body properly.
According to the Center, which is affiliated with a health-sciences university run by the federal government, if your joints are tight, that might affect your form when exercising. As a result, you could be more likely to get hurt.
How to become more flexible
If you want a routine or a class to help you improve your flexibility, try yoga, tai chi, or pilates. All three will stretch your muscles, and they also have some extra benefits as well.
Yoga, according to the Mayo Clinic, can also reduce stress, lower blood pressure, and improve your heart function. And tai chi can help you improve your balance, which can get worse as you get older, the Cleveland Clinic explains. Pilates focuses on balancing strength and flexibility. It could help you improve your balance, while also working on your posture and even your immune system, according to the Clinic.
Of course, simple stretching can help with your flexibility also. You should stretch at least twice a week, or, if you feel stiff, stretch daily, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends. But, if you plan to stretch while exercising, many experts advise stretching after a workout instead of before.
Whatever method you choose to get more flexible, be sure to warm up your muscles first. To do that, try some light cardio, such as walking jogging.