Exercises can be organized into three groups, each with its own benefits: aerobic (conditions your heart and lungs), strength training/anaerobic (preserves bone density, increases muscle mass and strength) and flexibility. Often overlooked, flexibility exercises should be included in your routine each time you exercise, or at least three times a week. Regardless of age, regular activity helps keep bones and muscles strong, promotes good balance and combats frailty. Most aerobic and strength training programs cause your muscles to contract. Counter this effect with flexibility exercises, which stretch and lengthen your muscles. According to the Mayo Health Clinic, flexibility exercises offer the following benefits:
Better range of motion: as you age, your flexibility decreases. Through lengthening your muscles, you will be able to perform daily tasks more easily and without injury.
Improved circulation: stretching increases blood flow to your muscles and can reduce the pain of arthritis.
Better posture: through lengthening your muscles, you will help keep your muscles from getting tight, which improves your posture.
Stress relief: when you are stressed, your muscles become tight. Lengthening these muscles helps to relieve this tension.
Enhanced coordination: flexibility helps you gain full range of motion, leading to more mobility and decreased risk of falls.
Be sure to include core muscles - the area around your trunk and pelvis - in your flexibility routine. Strong core muscles provide the brace of support needed to help prevent poor posture, lower back pain and muscle injuries.
Before beginning any exercise routine, talk with your doctor about any special conditions you might have. If you have an exercise-related injury and are seeing a physical therapist, find out from him or her about recommended flexibility exercises. If an exercise hurts while you are doing it, STOP doing it and consult a doctor. Other tips:
- Wear comfortable clothing
- Stay hydrated with water
- Hold each stretch - don't bounce, which can cause muscle tears
- Don't hold your breath
- Vary the type of exercises you do to keep it interesting, and gradually increase the time and intensity of your exercise.
Flexibility exercises can be done at home. AARP offers suggested flexibility exercises on its website, and there are books, videos and DVDs geared to all exercise ability levels. If you belong to a fitness center, ask a personal trainer to recommend flexibility exercises. There are also a variety of classes that are fun, challenging, and effective: balance ball, Pilates, yoga, Tai Chi, and dance. Regardless of which way you work flexibility exercises into your routine, be sure you enjoy it so that you stick with it!
Health Plan Flexibility Programs
Fallon Community Health Plan offers members the It Fits! Program, which provides individual members a $100 reimbursement and family members a $200 reimbursement towards membership at a fitness center, Pilates and yoga classes, and school and town athletic leagues. For more information, call 1-866-344-4442.
Harvard Pilgrim Health Care offers members discounts on in-home exercise equipment, exercise videos, and fitness clubs. For more information, call 1-888-333-4742.
Health New England offers members a Back-N-Action workshop which focuses on strengthening and stretching the major core muscles of the body to help prevent and treat common low back problems. For more information, contact Mike Gauvin at 413-233-3388.
This information provided by the Group Insurance Commission.