I’m that person at yoga who can twist herself into a pretzel. I can hook my foot around my head and do the splits. I was born like this and I’m not unique: more people are hypermobile (the official term for bendiness) than left-handed – around 15 to 20 per cent of the population, in fact.
Extreme flexibility is often glorified in yoga or gymnastics, and especially on Instagram (check out #flexibility to see 9.7 million posts of bendy people getting into knots). It feels great to stretch, but hypermobility has many physical downsides and research shows it may be linked to emotional disorders, too. Once known as being ‘double jointed’ – a term suggesting we have two sets of freaky joints – hypermobility, explains osteopath Anisha Joshi, ‘is when a joint extends beyond the average range of motion’. Anisha, who has many hypermobile patients, says this can cause ‘aches and pains, because their joints are laced with instability, and overstrained muscles from their joints moving too far and pulling the muscles attached’.
I tell Anisha that I find it hard to build muscle and, while I might be the bendiest person in my yoga class, I feel I am the weakest, too. This, she explains, is because when we’re flexible we tend to ‘sink’ into poses because our joints will let us. What we need to do is engage our muscles and, instead of sinking into our full range of motion, we should go halfway then use our muscles to really work them.
We should clock our bendiness outside the yoga studio, too. For example, our backs can be so ‘well-oiled’ it’s easy to hunch into a C-shape when sitting at a desk or on the sofa. To combat this, we need to tighten our stomach and back muscles and sit up tall.
It’s also vital, says Anisha, to build muscle, as our joints are less protected. We’ve all heard about the benefits of weight training for keeping joints strong, but it’s very important for the hypermobile in order to build the muscle that can help prevent injury.
Anisha suggests starting with exercises that involve your own bodyweight such as squats, planks and push-ups, before adding a resistance band to your workout to make your muscles work harder. After that she suggests moving on to handheld weights. I recommend following personal trainer Shona Vertue (@shona_vertue) who, as a hypermobile ex-gymnast, knows a great deal about keeping a flexible body strong.
And it’s not just our joints that are at risk. Research shows that we flexi folk are more likely to suffer from panic attacks, anxiety and gut issues. When a study by the Brighton and Sussex Medical School took brain scans of 72 people, it discovered those in the group who were hypermobile had a larger than normal amygdala than the others. This is the area that processes how we feel, and is potentially the reason we have a particularly sensitive fight-or-flight response.
Two women shedding light on this are physiotherapist and yogi @Celestpereiraphysio and yoga teacher @adellbridges, who together have more than 500K followers. Both suffered from unexplained fatigue and weird gut issues. Their book Too Flexible to Feel Good* offers lots of tips to manage symptoms and keep your body and brain strong.
Meet a real menopause expert
There are a lot of celebrities who are brilliantly bringing the menopause conversation to the fore. However, I would strongly recommend taking advice from the true experts. Dr Louise Newson is a GP and one of the UK’s top menopause specialists, who has lectured extensively on the subject. Her book Preparing for the Perimenopause and Menopause* is a must-read, with advice on HRT, early menopause, sleep, exercise and mental health.
Luxe up the legwork
Thanks to brands such as Acai (acaioutdoorwear.com), you no longer need to dress like a mountaineer when you head out for a walk or hike. My autumn kit bag will include the Max Stretch Skinny Outdoor Trousers, £79, which are the modern alternative to awful baggy waterproof trousers. Showerresistant, flattering, breathable and superstretchy, you can wear them on the school run and still look great.
*To order copies at a discounted price until 3 October, visit books.mailshop.co.uk or call 020 3308 9193. Free UK delivery on orders over £20.