As we age, our joints tighten up and make us less supple. But simple stretching can keep you nimble. And it can bring some surprising rewards.
There is a saying that goes: ‘If you don’t use it, you lose it.’ As the years roll by, the demands of our lifestyles place challenges on how we use our time. The daily rituals of working, family time and socialising always rank high on our list of priorities, but where does flexibility come on that list?
The reality is that it only becomes an issue when it starts to prevent you from participating in the things you enjoy.
I learned this lesson years ago. As the miles clocked up on the sporting clock, I suddenly realised I was not as nimble as I used to be. Sprinting for a football became a race where I felt I was running with the handbrake on.
Up to then, the notion of stretching was boring to me and the thoughts of staying out on a soccer pitch after training to stretch on a dark, wet night in November were not appealing when the hot showers were waiting.
As a result of this drop in performance, I needed to change my approach to flexibility and I started learning and practicing different styles of stretching in order to achieve the levels of performance that I aspired to.
I passed this knowledge on to clients who came to me to help heal their back — or whatever — pain and also to help them reach new levels in running and weight-training. I could see their improvements in the gym, but when I started to receive feedback about improvements in the bedroom, it certainly raised my eyebrows.
An inflexible body can change your life in so many ways and not just in your sporting life. As humans, we do not engage in activities because of logical reasons, we act more for emotional reason. We train hard and eat right to look and feel comfortable in front of the mirror naked, or because a wedding, party or school reunion is on the horizon, rarely because of our cholesterol levels are too high.
So, when you are unable to fulfil the needs of your partner in the bedroom because of tight hips or back pain, it starts to create an element of doubt in your mind. Will they leave me for someone else if I am in too much pain to perform?
As we age, the number of collagen fibres — which tighten our joints — increases, while the number of elastin fibres — which keep us flexible — reduces. Society’s dependence on alcohol and coffee exacerbate the problem, as these drinks dehydrate our body tissues.
Our body is made up of over 70pc water and if it is dehydrated, joints, muscles and connective tissue known as fascia can become adhered to each other, restricting the muscles and joints’ ability to glide and move.
In order to improve the quality of our life, and, perhaps, our performance in the bedroom, we need to look at the way we stretch, in addition to our lifestyles.
That’s why an understanding of the role of the connective tissue known as fascia is becoming more important. Scientific studies have proven it to be a web that is interwoven and linked all over the body. So if an area in the calf becomes tight, it can eventually pull on the fascia in the lower back.
Anatomy experts like Tom Myers in the US have mapped out a series of anatomy trains, showing how common patterns in the body are linked and how they can affect posture. The body should be stretched in these patterns.
The ancient practice of yoga is the closest I have seen to mimicking the stretching of these anatomy trains. The position of ‘downward-facing dog’ elongates the muscles of the back of the head right down to the ankle in one stretch.
Stretching in a yoga class is great as it encourages you to get in tune with your body, slows down your breath and this enables you to relax into a stretch.
If your goal is to eliminate joint and muscle pain, you may need assisted stretching. This is where you will be adjusted by a therapist, yoga teacher, trainer or spouse to reach levels of flexibility not possible on your own.
Stretching to achieve a flexible body is one of the best-kept anti-ageing secrets around — so what are you waiting for?