Ian Spiby at 75, one of the directors of Wellbeing Fitness, concludes his series about exercise for older people. In the previous two articles he concentrated on strength and mobility. This time he looks at that all-important but mostly ignored aspect – flexibility.
One of my most-loved pieces of junk mail is a brochure that drops through my letter-box every month or so from a company which specialises in gadgets and help-aids that are aimed at older people. They’re always full of phrases that I find amusing, like “Do you struggle with…? ”or “Do you wrestle with..?”. And the activities they are referring to when they ask you if you “struggle” or “wrestle” are actually ordinary, day-to-day behaviours such as bending down to pick something up or reaching to get an item off a shelf. My very favourite of all-time was the dog bowl they were selling which was attached to the end of a long handle like a walking stick so that you didn’t have to bend down to feed your pet.
Now – leaving aside the genuinely disabled people for whom articles like this would help them to lead easier lives, this company are in fact cashing in on the perception about older people that I referred to last time. It’s a perception that my company Wellbeing Fitness, are wholeheartedly fighting against – that older people must simply accept that they are getting weaker, stiffer and more feeble – ah bless!!
I hope I have shown in my previous two articles, that getting weaker is NOT inevitable and that appropriate strength-building exercises can halt that decline. But the biggest obstacle to overcome – and one which many young trainers are unwilling to accept is that everyone, no matter how old they are, can become more flexible. Over and over again, trainers (particularly men) tell me, “Oh I’m not flexible – never have been”. And underlying such a protest, is the assumption that that’s that – there’s nothing to be done. People are either bendy or they’re not.
I have proved with our clients at Wellbeing Fitness that that notion is FALSE. Just as you can get stronger, no matter what age you are, so you can increase your flexibility.
And why do you need to?
If I had to testify before some tribunal or other, I could stand with my hand on my heart and say that flexibility is the KEY factor to staying lively, active and robust in older age. It means you can bend down and pick up the dog bowl, you can reach behind the sofa for something that’s dropped down there, you can get on the floor and play with your grandkids and get up again without needing a helping hand.
At Wellbeing Fitness, all our personal trainers are also Pilates instructors, yoga teachers and massage therapists. EVERY personal training session contains flexibility exercises and assisted stretching – and we encourage clients to have regular massages which helps massively in keeping the
body supple and mobile. That way we are preparing them from middle age onwards (and I most definitely include myself in this!) to enjoy a full, active and energetic old age.