Over the course of one’s life, the physiological changes that occur within the body work against us to reduce flexibility and general range of motion.
Not only do people depend on joint manoeuvrability for exercise activities, such as their chosen martial art, but also for the basic functions of everyday life.
The changes that take place in and around the joints and connective ligature have a significant impact on the non-muscular tissues. Stretching regularly can reduce joint stiffness and increase pliability and elasticity that are naturally lost over time.
The most recognizable effect of age-related joint stiffness is the loss of range of motion. Over time, the body naturally experiences a reduction in the mobility of spinal and peripheral joints, a whopping twenty to thirty percent loss between the ages of thirty and seventy.
After reaching the mid seventies, seniors can expect an average mobility reduction of 50% in the joints of the spine. Studies have shown that the upper and lower extremities do not degenerate at the same rate, rather, due to continued use of the upper limbs throughout your lifetime they remain in better condition.
As age-related restrictions set in, mobility tends to decrease, and with it the constant and regular use of lower body joints and muscles. The result is an atrophic effect of the muscles and non-muscular tissue that makes movement and flexibility difficult.
There has been extensive research into the effects of aging in regard to musculature and non-muscular tissue. The large muscles that provide the contraction necessary for movement are only a fraction of the involved components. In addition to the muscular element are tendons, ligaments, cartilage, joint capsules, extracellular fluid, synovial fluid, connective tissue, and blood vessels.
When researchers considered the relationship between these non-muscular mechanisms and their counterparts, it became clear that the loss of pliability and viscoelastic properties of tissue fibers was a result of reduced collagen, the supporting protein in connective tissue. In a comparative study, the joint capsule was the leading cause of joint resistance, weighing in at a staggering forty-seven percent. The non-muscular tissue, not the muscles, demonstrated the most significant change as a result of aging, leading to the majority of joint motion loss.
Flexibility and range of motion are the fundamental benefits of a regular stretching routine in aging adults , and the earlier you begin the better. Stretching exercises are recommended to counter the effects of collagen cross-linking and decreased ligament viscosity, and are shown to provide significant advantages as you age. Some benefits of flexibility training include improved joint mobility, relief of arthritis symptoms, strengthening of muscles to reduce the likelihood of injury, and improved blood flow that maximizes oxygen distribution, thereby increasing alertness and energy levels.
Stretching to increase flexibility is vital for older adults who want to maintain their mobility and healthy joints into old age. By continually mobilizing the joints, muscles, and connective tissues, people are able to slow the natural effects of aging.
As martial artists over 40, it becomes even more important to keep stretching. We are asking more from our bodies than the average person. We need to retain our flexibility in order to remain active in the martial arts. And as a result, a side-benefit, we can look forward to improved quality of life as we age.
But if we stop stretching we run the risk of injury, extended periods without training, and potentially becoming discouraged with our martial art.
Keep on stretching. Flexibility is king!