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Flexibility is the ability to move limbs through their full range of motion without discomfort or pain. Decreased flexibility becomes more prevalent in the elderly, although this decrease is more likely due to increased inactivity rather than the aging process itself. A decline in flexibility may limit functionality and as a result independence. 

If you have a limited range of motion, you may be at an increased risk of injury. Having good flexibility in the lower back and thighs is especially important to reduce the risk of developing low back pain. You can start to gradually incorporate stretching by taking stretch breaks from your chair at work, or at home in front of the television or computer. Try yoga or tai chi for further benefits. 

Basic Stretching Guidelines:

  • Perform a brief warm-up prior to stretching to increase blood flow and muscle temperature to decrease risk of injury
  • Slowly move each joint to a point of mild discomfort (never to a point of pain)
  • Hold each stretch for 10 to 30 seconds, without bouncing
  • Relax and repeat each stretch three to four times
  • Perform stretching routine a minimum of two to three days per week
  • Stretching with your aerobic or strength training session is thought to reduce your chance of injury, although whether to stretch before or after your exercise is still an issue of debate

Learn to listen to your body. Flexibility, like all forms of fitness, is an individual matter so move at your own pace. If a stretch causes pain, stop doing it. If you have joint injuries (shoulder, knee, back) consult with a health care professional to ensure you are not causing further damage to the area. A series of stretching photos and further guidelines are illustrated in the "ACSM Fitness Book, 3rd edition" published by Human Kinetics.