The bad news first: You tend to become less flexible as you age. Joints stiffen so you can’t move as easily as you used to. The good news: You can maintain (and even regain) your flexibility with exercises to improve your range of motion. And that can make you feel years younger at any age!
Range of motion (ROM) is the normal amount your joints can move in certain directions. Unless you’ve been performing yoga the past 30 years, you could probably manage a much better front split when you were 7 years old than you can today. That’s because your hips’ ROM has decreased over the years.
But other things affect your ROM, too, such as arthritis, surgery, injury or physical inactivity. When you perform a ROM exercise, you work at increasing the normal amount your joints can move. Why is that important? Because improving the flexibility in your joints helps you:
- slow down the progression of arthritis
- reduce stiffness that makes it harder for you to perform daily activities
- keep joints flexible and pain-free
- improve your circulation by increasing blood flow to your muscles
- enhance your coordination and balance, making you less likely to fall
- relieve stress by relaxing tight muscles
- improve and maintain good posture
- reduce your chance of injury during physical activity
Do these gentle exercises once a day to improve the ROM in your ankles, hips and shoulders. You may find that walking, climbing stairs, exercising and simply reaching overhead become a lot more comfortable.
If you have arthritis or any other chronic medical condition, get your doctor’s OK before performing new exercises. Warm up by walking while pumping your arms for five minutes. Perform each movement below up to 10 times, slowly and without bouncing. Stop if you feel pain.
Sit on a sturdy chair with your feet flat on the floor. Slowly lift your toes as high as possible while keeping your heels on the floor. Then return your toes to the floor and lift your heels up as high as possible. Repeat.
Lie on your back with your legs straight and about six inches apart, toes pointing upwards. Slide one leg out to the side as far as you can comfortably go, then return, keeping your toes pointed to the ceiling. Repeat with the other leg.
Lie on your back, arms alongside your torso. Raise one arm over your head, keeping your elbow straight and your arm close to your ear. Return your arm slowly to your side. Repeat with your other arm.