Suppleness is the third pillar of fitness, along with cardiovascular health and strength. And it’s not an optional add-on.
‘Use it or lose it is the name of the game – which means sitting less and moving more,’ says Sammy Margo of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy.
The passing of the years, as well as conditions such as osteoarthritis, can make you seize up, but there are plenty of simple things you can do to help yourself stay as flexible as possible.
10 exercises to help you stay flexible
‘Losing weight generally puts less mechanical stress on the joints and other tissues. But fasting days also reduce inflammation, which can cause stiffness,’ says Dr Patricia Macnair, from Milford Hospital, Surrey.
It’s the most obvious thing, but being slimmer can make it easier to bend and stretch your limbs and trunk.
Exercise is critical too. Its many benefits include an anti-inflammatory effect, protein building (as long as you have enough high-quality protein in your diet) and, of course, stretching stiff tissues and flexing and extending joints to the full.
Exercise also helps to lubricate the joints and breaks the tiny scars that form on a microscopic level in soft tissues (especially if they are inflamed) and increase stiffening as you age.
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Swap your shoes
‘All your body’s movement goes through your feet, so foot health is essential to overall flexibility,’ says Dr Christopher Morriss-Roberts of the College of Podiatry.
As we age, the fibrous padding on the soles of the feet disappears, making feet bonier and movement harder. Increasingly poor circulation can also make feet and ankles swell. So invest in a pair of trainers – or sandals – with soft cushioning.
Many of us are wedded to shoes we’ve always worn, but trainers look trendy – no reason to sacrifice style for function. Always buy shoes in a shop (not by mail order) and walk about in them to make sure they fit.
Foot health: corns, big toe pain, puffy ankles and more
Eat more fish
Omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish, such as herring, salmon, mackerel, fresh tuna and sardines, help to fight inflammation, joint pain and stiffness.
They’re called ‘essential fats’ as you can’t make them in your body in sufficient amounts and have to get them from your diet. But, says Helen Bond of the British Dietetic Association, older adults average only 84g of oily fish a week, when they need more like 140g. That’s equal to about a fillet and a half of cooked salmon. If you’re not keen on fish, fish-oil supplements could be the answer.
Sources of omega 3 for people who don't like salmon
Keep flexible with a supplement
‘Several supplements are backed by good evidence that they help you stay supple and reduce stiffness,’ says medical nutritionist Dr Sarah Brewer.
Not all work for everyone: the way they are absorbed and metabolised depends on the biological make-up you have inherited from your parents. Dr Brewer adds, ‘I usually recommend glucosamine and chondroitin, which studies have shown work together to stimulate joint repair, suppress enzymes that dissolve cartilage, and have an anti-inflammatory action.’
Try a collagen supplement too, as it provides the building blocks for connective tissue, which give strength to bones, ligaments, tendons and cartilage. It also triggers the formation of messenger chemicals that tell the body to synthesise yet more collagen.
Drink green tea
Green tea may help improve mobility in people with knee arthritis. So says a recent – albeit small – study from Iran. The reasons? This study didn’t specify, but green tea contains antioxidants that show promise in combating inflammation and joint damage. Other research has shown green tea can aid weight loss and may improve endurance in athletes.
Dr Mark Porter on steroid injections for knee arthritis
Cook a curry
‘Several herbs and spices can help keep us moving and combat the lack of flexibility that comes with age. But turmeric, the spice that gives curry its yellow colour, is my top choice,’ says medical herbalist Dee Atkinson (deeatkinson.net). ‘An increasing number of studies reveal its main active compound, curcumin, has powerful anti-inflammatory properties. Use turmeric in curries and smoothies and/or take in supplement form.
10 reasons to eat more spices
Book a spa break
Some 240 lucky patients with osteoarthritis of the knee, hip and spine were booked into a spa for two weeks. According to the findings of the Turkish study, published in October 2016, the spa therapy improved pain and physical function.
Osteoarthritis is the largest cause of loss of suppleness as we get older and around one in ten people of 55+ and eight out of ten people aged 65+ have evidence of it in the knee. The ancient Chinese martial art of T’ai-chi, which combines deep breathing and relaxation with gentle continuous movement, can help boost suppleness and combat symptoms, according to a Chinese review of six studies.
Learn more about t'ai chi
Saga Health Insurance members with bone, muscle and joint pain can call a physiotherapist for advice and arrange physiotherapy without seeing a GP. Find out more at saga.co.uk/health-insurance or call 0800 904 7409.
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