Fitness and Flexibility
Fitness depends on a number of components - flexibility is but one of those components. The other components of fitness include: strength, power, speed, endurance, balance, co-ordination, agility and skill. Hence it is important to see flexibility as only one of the spokes in the fitness world.
While certain sports require different levels of each fitness component, when it comes to your individual fitness regime and you don't fit into a particular sporting category, it is essential your training program/fitness regime, covers all the elements of physical fitness.
Keep in mind that good flexibility at one joint or muscle group does not mean you are entirely flexible. Look at flexibility as specific to a particular joint or muscle group and then when you stretch don't just stretch one or two joints/muscle groups but as many as possible.
Poor flexibility can be a major contributing factor to muscle and joint pain. In turn this can make it hard to bend down or look over your shoulder, limiting your range of motion. The reason for this is the affected muscles cannot contract and relax efficiently. The result is loss of strength and power during physical activity and the increased possibility of injury.
Tight/stiff muscles can even restrict blood flow and this in turn can result in muscle fatigue and ultimately the muscle repair process and it's ability to recover from strenuous exercise.
So how is flexibility restricted you ask? Restriction can be caused by both internal and external factors. The internal factors are your bones, ligaments, muscle bulk, muscle length, tendons and skin. Hence your leg cannot bend forward beyond a straight position due to the structure of the bones and ligaments making up your knee joint.
External factors include age, gender, temperature, restrictive clothing and of course any injury or disability you may have.
I am currently feeling the affects of ageing and noticing the huge role it is playing in my flexibility. As each year passes I feel I am becoming stiffer and tighter after my runs and if I don't stretch afterwards my body lets me know big time. This is due to the physical degeneration that happens with age, however the other thing that can combine with ageing and affect your flexibility is inactivity - often age is used as an excuse not to exercise and so you get hit with a double whammy. I would rather be active than inactive as it forces me to remember to do my stretching.
Age should not be a barrier to a fit and active lifestyle, but certain precautions should be taken as we get older. Firstly remember you are not a spring chicken anymore, so don't go at it "hell-for-high-leather." Age means you will need to work at it for longer, be a bit more patient and take a lot more care. If you are still young and active make sure stretching is part of your fitness regime, and if you have neglected stretching, don't give up - there is still time to Change-Challenge-Achieve. Stay active and happy stretching.