Research has clearly proven the importance of exercise for bone health and overall wellbeing. Flexibility, however, doesn’t get as much attention.
The risk of falls and fractures is significantly increased with a lack of flexibility, so today we’ll look at what science has to say about keeping your body flexible for protecting your bones and improving your quality of life. And we also include a posture-improving stretch that you can easily incorporate into your exercise routine.
The Value Of Flexibility
Flexibility is determined by the range of movement of your joints and the length of your muscles. It’s one of the most basic measurements of our ability to move our bodies, and everyone’s flexibility level is different. The good news is that your flexibility level has the potential to improve.
A lack of flexibility can impair your ability to engage in everyday activities. Everything from picking up groceries, to playing with kids or grandkids, to comfortably traveling in the tight confines of an airplane or compact car can become painful or even impossible due to poor flexibility.
Below are a few general benefits of increasing flexibility, which can be improved by stretching:
- Allows most effective use of muscles
- Decreases the risk of injuries during exercise
- Helps joints move through their full range of motion
- Improves posture and alignment
- Reduces soreness after exercise
- Increases capacity for physical activity
- Increases blood flow to muscles, providing incresed oxygen during exercise
All of the above improve your ability to comfortably and safely engage in daily physical activities. And studies have shown that stretching also provides specific bone and overall health benefits that we’ll review next.
Flexibility describes range of motion, can be increased by stretching and has many physical advantages.
Flexibility For Reversing Osteoporosis
A study published in the International Journal of Yoga examined the effects of yoga on bone mineral density.
The researchers worked with a group of 30 women, aged 45 to 62 diagnosed with postmenopausal osteoporosis. All of the participants underwent six months of one-hour fully supervised yoga sessions, conducted four days a week.
Upon completion of the program, T-scores were calculated using a DXA scan at the lumbar spine. The results showed improvement in bone mineral density (BMD), shifting from a pre-program mean T-score of -2.69 to post-program mean T-score of -2.55.1
Yoga not only involves stretching, but also includes certain poses and movements that constitute weight-bearing exercise shown to increase bone mass and strength.
Yoga increases bone mass, combining stretching for increased flexibility with weight-bearing exercise.
Stretching To Relieve Lower Back Pain
Another study, led by Dr. Karen J. Sherman of the Group Health Research Institute in Seattle, compared the effects of stretching, yoga, and self-help literature on lower back pain.
The study divided participants into three groups. Two of the groups received 12 once-a-week 75-minute classes of yoga or stretching exercises lead by a physical therapist. Both of those groups were instructed to practice at home on non-class days for 20 minutes a day. The third group received a self-care book about back pain that contained suggested exercises and lifestyle changes.
The researchers found that the yoga and stretching classes were more effective than the self-help book at 6 weeks, 3 months, and 6 months. Those two methods comparably decreased or eliminated participants lower back pain, increased their back function and flexibility, and even reduced their dependence on medication for back pain.2
Clearly, increasing flexibility by stretching helps to prevent, reduce, and eliminate lower back pain.
Regular stretching, either conventionally or through yoga, relieves lower back pain and increases back function and flexibility.
Start Your Day With This Stretch
You can attain the benefits of increased flexibility at home, using stretches that are easy, quick, and don’t require any equipment. This stretch is designed to improve your posture, increasing upper body flexibility, and protecting your spine.
To do this stretch, you’ll need to find a spot with enough space to extend your arms.
- Begin by standing on your legs wider than shoulder width
- Bend your knees slightly
- Place the palms of your hands together in front of your chest, fingers pointed up
- Take a deep breath in and stretch your arms back with your palms up, as if you’re holding two platters as far apart and as far back as your range of motion allows
- Hold for a count of five
- Exhale and return your palms to their initial position together in front of your chest
- Repeat 3-5 times or as many times as you comfortably can
Studies have shown that poor posture is an indicator for needing assistance or living in a nursing home later in life.3 That result underscores the significance of maintaining good posture using stretches like this one. Make sure you incorporate some stretching exercises as part of your exercise practice to help you avoid falls, prevent fractures, and increase your bone strength.
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1 Zainab S Motorwala, et al. “Effects of Yogasanas on osteoporosis in postmenopausal women.”
Int J Yoga. 2016 Jan-Jun; 9(1): 44–48. Web. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4728958/
2 Karen J. Sherman, et al. “A Randomized Trial Comparing Yoga, Stretching, and a Self-care Book for Chronic Low Back Pain.” Arch Intern Med. 2011 Dec 12; 171(22): 2019–2026. Web. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3279296/
3 Kamitani, Kojiro, et al. “Spinal Posture in the Sagittal Plane Is Associated With Future Dependence in Activities of Daily Living: A Community-Based Cohort Study of Older Adults in Japan.” The Journals of Gerontology. January 2013. Web. http://biomedgerontology.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2013/01/24/gerona.gls253.abstract