Your joints and muscles have a certain range of motion that the body allows. Flexibility is the ability of the body to move freely through this allowed range. Flexibility is also known as limberness. The parts used more are usually more flexible than those that are not put to much use.
Some people are more flexible than others. Genetics play a role in determining how flexible your joints and muscles are. Exercise can also improve a person’s flexibility to a certain extent.
There are two types of flexibility.
Dynamic flexibility - The ability to move joints to the maximum of their allowed range of motion (e.g., bending down to pick up an item or stretching to take something from a higher shelf).
Static flexibility - The ability to maintain a position for a longer time without any external support (e.g., lifting your leg and keeping it high without holding any support).
Importance Of Flexibility
Reduced Injury Risk
When you have higher flexibility, your body can handle physical stress much better. Hence, when you are exercising or doing a strenuous physical activity, the chances of getting hurt are lesser.
Improved Balance and Posture
A study concluded that people who take up flexibility exercises and stretching two times a week for 12 weeks saw improved balance and lumbar strength.
Improved Athletic Performance
A study that explored the effects of yoga on athletes reported that yoga improved flexibility in adult athletes. Flexibility, in turn, improved athletic performance.
Lesser Body Pain
When your body is more flexible, the muscles are better relaxed. This reduces general body pain in adults and children.
Reduced Risk of Heart Diseases
A 2009 article relates poor trunk flexibility to increased risks of arterial stiffening. Arterial stiffening is the stiffening and thickening of the artery walls that can lead to heart diseases.
How Genes Influence Flexibility?
The Influence of ACTN3 Gene on Flexibility
The ACTN3 gene helps produce the Alpha-actinin protein. This protein gives structure to muscles in the body.
A 2014 study analyzed the effects of polymorphism of the ACTN3 gene in flexibility and injury risk in ballet dancers in Korea.
The result concluded that those ballerinas with the ACTN3 TT genotype of the rs1815739 SNP are less flexible than others and have higher risks for ankle-joint injuries. Ballerinas with the CT and CC genotype were more flexible and hence had lesser risks for injuries.
The Influence of COL5A1 Gene on Flexibility
The COL5A1 gene is called the ‘flexibility gene.’ This helps produce the type V collagen. Collagen helps in strengthening your bones, muscles, skin, and tendons. It keeps your joints mobile and flexible. Lowered levels of collagen can result in stiffness and reduced flexibility.
rs12722 is an SNP of the COL5A1 gene. The T allele of this SNP causes quadricep stiffness and an increased risk of muscle injuries while the C allele is not associated with flexibility issues.
Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS) is a genetic disorder that results in loose joints, very stretchy skin, and overly flexible joints. People with the syndrome have extra ranges of joint movements, also called hypermobility. EDS can cause joint pain, frequent injuries, and bruises in the skin.
More than 100 different mutations in the COL5A1 gene are noted in people with EDS.
Non-genetic Factors Affecting Flexibility
Age - Newborns are extremely flexible. Flexibility in the body reduces as you age. After 55 years of age, collagen production reduces, and tissues start losing water. This brings down flexibility levels.
Body Bulk - If you have more bulky, it may be difficult to stretch or move limbs and muscles.
Gender - Women are considered more flexible than men.
The temperature and time of the day - You might be surprised, but your body’s flexibility depends on what time of the day it is and the external temperature. Warmer climates improve flexibility, and people are more flexible in the afternoons than in the mornings.
Over-flexibility - Is It a Problem?
Over-flexibility is a problem when your muscles, ligaments, and tendons stretch beyond what’s normal for them. It puts stress on your tendons and ligaments and results in injuries.
Ligaments are not to be stretched more than 6% of their length. Some people can be over flexible because of their genes, which increases their risks of injuries and ligament tear.
Recommendations To Improve Flexibility
Yoga, stretching exercises, pilates, etc., are all different kinds of exercises that help improve your flexibility. All these exercises gently stretch muscles and improve mobility.
Practice Static Flexible Exercises
Static flexible exercises require you to hold a stretch or a position for 30 -60 seconds before relaxing. Static flexible exercises help improve flexibility.
Relax Your Muscles
Taking a warm water bath can instantly relax your muscles and improve your flexibility.
When done right, massages can help improve flexibility and your range of motion, keeping your joints stronger and agile.
Water is essential for the normal functioning of the body. Dehydration can cause inflexibility and limit your range of motion. Make sure you drink adequate water to improve flexibility.
Stress is known to tighten muscles and decrease physical flexibility. Working on mental stress levels can help the muscles relax and improve your flexibility levels.
- Flexibility is the range of motion that your joints and muscles have. There are two types of flexibility, namely, dynamic and static flexibility.
- Flexibility depends on genetics and other factors like age, body bulk, and physical fitness.
- Flexing and stretching muscles, tendons, and ligaments beyond their capacities can cause injuries.
- Some genes are known to play a role in flexibility levels. Changes in the ACTN3 and COL5A1 genes can increase/decrease flexibility and may make you more susceptible to injuries.
- Practicing certain forms of exercise, keeping the body hydrated, and staying relaxed can improve flexibility.