You might be getting into your fitness regime or hitting the gym now lockdowns are coming to an end and restrictions are loosening, but there's one key aspect of fitness many people are still ignoring. Try as we might to get the message out there, but people aren't stretching or doing any mobility work as a part of their health and fitness plan.
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Which is a shame. Although building muscle is a great way to keep you stronger as you age, and cardiovascular exercises ensures your heart stays healthy for a long time to come, mobility is another key part of staying healthy as you get older. In fact, we'd say it's one of the most important factors.
A report published in the American Journal of Public Health (opens in new tab) found "optimal mobility, defined as relative ease and freedom of movement in all of its forms, is central to healthy aging" with a lack of mobility affecting quality of life. If you have limited mobility, everything from a walk around the park to making a cup of tea could become much more difficult.
Another report from Harvard University (opens in new tab) describes the processes of muscles "shortening" when not in use. The shorter your muscles, the more limited your range of motion becomes, preventing you from using them in the same way.
This is where stretching comes in. Practising stretching and mobility techniques, especially after a workout when the muscles are warm, helps to keep the muscles longer. If you have longer muscles and a greater range of motion, as those muscles begin to shorten in later life, they'll have a lot further to go.
This means you'll enjoy many more years of free movement compared to somebody that doesn't stretch or use their muscles at all. The Harvard report emphasises this loosening of the muscles is a long progress, as "It may have taken you many months to get tight muscles, so you're not going to be perfectly flexible after one or two sessions".
This is why daily stretching is very important if you want to stay healthy into longer life. It will counteract the negative effects of sitting down for too long, keep you supple and reduce any aches and pains you feel after exercising.
So where do you start? Fortunately, we have a beginner's guide to stretching, which showcases a lot of simple dynamic and static stretches you can incorporate into your routine. These are easy to do on a daily basis and should take between five and ten minutes to complete.
Alternatively, if you're looking for a follow-along flexibility routine, YouTube has loads to get started with. Most of the best ones, like the below video by fitness YouTuber Leigha Butler, are beginner routines so people who are very inflexible can still follow along.
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Matt Evans is an experienced health and fitness journalist and News Editor at Fit&Well, covering all things exercise and nutrition on the Fit&Well website. Matt originally discovered exercise through martial arts: he holds a black belt in Karate and remains a keen runner, gym-goer, and infrequent yogi. His top fitness tip? Stretch.
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