Stretching exercises can help you stay independent

By MISSY CORRIGAN
Posted 1/24/18

Many of us worry about losing our independence as we age. Naturally, as we age, we lose muscle mass. At the age of 70, about 25 percent of your muscle mass is gone, increasing your risk for injury and inability to fully recover, which eventually …

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Stretching exercises can help you stay independent

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Many of us worry about losing our independence as we age. Naturally, as we age, we lose muscle mass. At the age of 70, about 25 percent of your muscle mass is gone, increasing your risk for injury and inability to fully recover, which eventually leads to a loss of independence. However, staying active and maintaining your range of motion improves your chances for living independently your entire life. Flexibility helps increase range of motion so we can easily complete everyday tasks.

Your range of motion is determined by how far you can move a joint in various directions. Stretching exercises can help improve this range of motion. When you stretch, you're working muscles and tendons. Stretching promotes flexibility and helps your joints maintain a healthy range of motion, reducing risk of joint and muscle damage. The following structures support your range of motion:

- Joints are the junctions that link bones together. The architecture of each joint - that is, whether its structure is a hinge, pivot or ball and socket - determines how the bones can move.

- Muscles surround joints and provide the energy used to move them. The amount of tension in the muscles surrounding a joint is a key factor in how big of a range of motion that joint can achieve. Muscle tension can be affected both by passive factors, such as tissue scarring or your habitual posture, and by active factors, such as involuntary muscle spasms or purposeful muscle contractions.

- Tendons are flexible cords of strong tissue that connect muscles to bones and make movement possible. When a joint moves, energy from the muscles is transferred into the tendons, which tug on the bones.

- Ligaments are tough, fibrous bands of tissue that bind bone to bone, or bone to cartilage, at a joint. Ligaments are not supposed to be overly stretchy so they help maintain stability.

Whether you are already physically active or not, stretching will help loosen your joints by activating the fluids within them, therefore reducing damage caused by friction. Stretching will also help lengthen your muscles. When a muscle is tight you're much more susceptible to injury.

While stretching isn't studied as often as other forms of exercise, the American College of Sports Medicine suggests that healthy adults should do flexibility exercises for all major muscle groups including the neck, shoulders, chest, trunk, lower back, hips, legs and ankles. For best results, you should do these stretches 2-3 times per week, holding each stretch for 30 seconds, three times each. If you are consistent with your stretching, it won't take long before you see improvement.

Missy Corrigan is executive of community health for Sumter Family YMCA. She can be reached at mcorrigan@ymcasumter.org or (803) 773-1404.