Anyone that knows me at all knows how much I love my yoga classes. You’ve probably heard me say how great I feel when I finish the class and how my mind is at peace during that hour. I swear that yoga has kept me sane. But I’m also learning how beneficial it is for my health.
Sometimes our lifestyle can shorten our muscles. Have you ever strained a muscle doing an everyday activity? For instance, do you spend hours at a desk leaning over a computer keyboard like I do? This can put you at higher risk of straining the muscles in your back. Or if your lifestyle has you on the run picking up toddlers while carrying in bags of groceries, you are at greater risk of pulling your hamstrings. When you are limber, sudden awkward movements won’t strain your muscles. It’s not enough to be aerobically fit. You have to work on your flexibility too.
Flexibility is part three of a healthy fitness plan. We all know that cardiovascular conditioning and strength training are vital for overall health but good flexibility has many benefits to the body as well. It can help you reach your optimum fitness level and help prevent injury. In addition, it can stave off conditions like arthritis. When you stretch a muscle, you lengthen the tendons. The longer the tendons, the more you are able to increase the muscle size when strength training. The larger the muscle, the higher your metabolism and fitness level. So you can see how the 3 parts of fitness all work together. If you leave one part out, you are cheating yourself from achieving the maximum results.
Stretching can also improve your circulation and has been linked to lower risk of cardiovascular disease. A 2009 study in the American Journal of Physiology indicated that people over 40 who scored well on flexibility tests had less stiffness in their arterial walls which is an indicator of risk for stroke and heart attack.
You may be asking, ok where do I start? To increase your flexibility, start with about 10-20 minutes of stretching a day. Focus on the major muscles: arms, shoulders, neck, back, thighs, calves, and ankles. If you have problem prone areas, then spend a little more time zeroing in on those. Once you have reached your goals, you can maintain your flexibility with stretching only a few times a week. Or even better yet, join me at the YMCA for a yoga class.