Flexibility and Balance
Material adapted from ACSM's Complete Guide to Fitness & Health by the American College of Sports Medicine. (Copyright 2011 by Human Kinetics Publishers, Inc.) Excerpted by permission of Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL. http://www.humankinetics.com/.
A balanced exercise program is like a sturdy three-legged stool. If one leg is weak or too short, the stool isn't stable. In the same way, ignoring one of the exercise components will put your fitness program out of balance. Each health-related component of physical fitness — aerobic fitness, muscular fitness, and flexibility and balance — is important and must be considered. Although you may have a slightly different focus than someone else, to meet your own personal health or fitness goals, you need to address each one of these components.
Flexibility is the ability to move a joint through its full range of motion, or in other words, the amount of movement possible given the structure of the joint. To improve flexibility, you need to include stretching exercises in your exercise program.
Stretching refers to exercises that move joints, along with the related muscles, tendons, and ligaments, through their range of motion. Include stretching in your exercise program at least two to three days per week. Typically, about 10 minutes will allow you to stretch the major muscle groups (neck, shoulders, back, pelvis, hips, and legs). Check out these stretching exercises in our how-to videos.
In addition to flexibility, adult exercise programs should also address balance. Your nervous system interacts with your muscles to move your body as well as to optimize agility and balance. Aging can result in a loss of balance and agility, thus leading to an increased risk of falling. Balance-enhancing activities, often referred to as neuromuscular exercises (because of the brain/nerve and muscle connection), are recommended for adults in the form of activities such as tai chi, Pilates, and yoga, and for older adults who are at risk of falling or who have impairments in mobility. Here's a quick video that shows how to do a simple balance exercise.
Click here for ACSM's Program for Balanced Fitness (Part Four): Self Assessment.
Reviewed by Susan Weiner, RD, MS, CDE, CDN (06/12)
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