There seems to be a common misconception that some people are naturally more flexible than others.
How many times have you heard a friend or family member say “I’m just not flexible, I can’t even touch my toes”?
Most of us are born very flexible – losing our innate flexibility is usually something that comes with age and a lack of regular stretching. But physical flexibility has been proven to work wonders for your overall wellbeing. It helps prevent injury during exercise, aids fitness and brings a host of benefits to general health including combating illness. And it’s not difficult to do.
If you struggle to reach your toes, don’t be alarmed. It’s very simple, and not very time consuming, to improve your flexibility and change your life!
The health benefits that come from maintaining a flexible body include:
- Improve performance and way of life – flexibility exercises increase your range of motion and build muscle around your joints to support exercise. That means you can apply more force and speed in your activities as well as enjoying more physical activity.
- Protect against injury – when muscles are tight and stiff they are more likely to pull or tear under stress. Stretching and flexibility protect against injury, as muscles can stretch further in intense activities. Longer muscle fibres lead to larger, stronger muscles. Flexibility also means that muscle groups are balanced and all working evenly. Stretching post exercise is also beneficial as it improves circulation by helping nutrients and oxygen reach your muscles quickly, helping you recover and removing any by-products.
- Alleviate back pain – tight muscles can not only cause problems at the muscle site but can refer pain elsewhere in the body. For example, tightness in the legs and hip flexor muscles can lead to lower back pain. Stretching out these areas will reduce the likelihood of this.
- Reduce risk of illness – as stretching helps with circulation, increasing blood flow to your muscles, this could also help protect you against some illnesses. There’s also some evidence that greater flexibility is beneficial for people with high blood pressure and heart disease.
Daily stretching will deliver the greatest results. But you can expect lasting improvement in your flexibility if you stretch at least two or three times a week.
At Defence Health we always want what’s best for our members, so we took to the streets of Melbourne to see just how flexible the general public was.
From conducting a sit-and-reach test with more than 100 unsuspecting Melburnians of all ages, we found that females were almost twice as flexible as men. On average, male participants could reach 6.39cm but the females could reach 12.17cm!
There is science to support these statistics. According to Harvard University, a woman gets some of her additional flexibility from structural differences in her back – the curvature of a woman’s spine is spread across three vertebrae while a man’s is only spread across two. This is because women’s bodies allow them to carry and eventually hold a baby.
In comparison to the Australian norm, our Melbourne sit-and-reach participants ranked above average. But there were also many who would benefit from working on their flexibility.
You can check your flexibility with your own sit-and-reach test at home. All you need is a box and a ruler. Secure the ruler to the top of your box with zero being the top of your toes as pictured below.
- Sit on the floor with your legs out straight ahead and knees flat against the floor.
- Place the box flat against your feet.
- Lean forward slowly as far as possible keeping the fingertips level with each other and the legs flat. Hold this position for 2 seconds and have your training partner read the score.
To see how you compare, check your results against the following national standards.
|Female||< -15||-15 to – 8||– 7 to 0||1 to 10||11 to 20||21 to 30||> 30|
|Male||< -20||-20 to – 9||– 8 to – 1||0 to 5||6 – 16||17 to 27||> 27|
With these benefits and more, it’s a no brainer – it’s time to get flexible!