Can you touch your toes?
Can you stand on one foot for 30 seconds?
If you can’t, you’re not alone. But balance and flexibility are among the key facets of physical fitness. And just like cardiovascular endurance and strength, they diminish with age unless we work on them.
Working on balance and flexibility helps prevent falls, which can be disastrous later in life. And just like it’s never too late to start working on them, it’s also never too soon. Anyone engaged in fitness should include stretching in his or her routine, whether beginning or experienced.
There’s a reason people have always talked about being “strong enough to bend,” you know.
Plus, stretching feels good. It lowers stress, and improves posture and circulation. It helps us perform everyday activities, like bending over and turning our heads. You can work on it everyday around the house and at work.
Here are some of the offerings that are popular among active adults. They are safe, low impact and require mindfulness, in the best sense.
Almost 40 million North Americans enjoy yoga’s health benefits, according to the 2016 Yoga in America Study.
About one-fifth are in their 50s, and another one-fifth are over 60.
Yoga is great for balance, strength and bone density. It helps with back pain, blood pressure and anxiety. The focus on breathing is simple and profoundly beneficial for the mind, body and spirit.
And, super-important for people over 50: Yoga is highly adaptable to everyone’s physical needs and limitations. Let your instructor know about any aches, arthritis, surgeries, etc. – and he or she will guide you to an alternative.
Pilates focuses on the core muscles. It is somewhat similar to yoga, but it foregoes the meditative or metaphysical aspects. It provides a safe, low-impact workout that involves working on a mat on the floor (along with some minor props that are furnished in class).
Also like yoga, Pilates generally moves at a gentle, deliberate pace and focuses on proper form and breathing. And it can build strength, reduce back pain, and improve posture, coordination and balance.
Pilates focuses on building strength in the core muscles, or the “powerhouse” of the legs, abdominals, arms, hips and back.
It was created by Joseph Pilates, a circus performer and boxer, while he was in a World War I internment camp. He practiced it into his 80s.
The slow, gentle movements of tai chi (pronounced TIE CHEE) have been practiced in China for thousands of years, and today by millions of people around the world.
The ancient martial art is sometimes called “meditation in motion.” And remembering the steps and their sequence is good for brain health and focus.
Studies show tai chi helps people with arthritis and Parkinson’s disease, as well as stress management, muscle tone, lower blood pressure and other aspects of good health.
Tai chi improves balance while standing still and also while moving.
General tips for stretching
Falls are the leading cause of death for people over 65, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. One in three adults falls each year. Thousands of North Americans die, and millions are hurt.
Whether here at the studio or at home with a book or video, please stretch – at least 15 minutes a day, three times a week. For a nice introduction to some basic movements, check out this from the National Institute on Aging.