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Last Updated: Sunday, 30 May, 2004, 23:19 GMT 00:19 UK
Material girl bends over backwards
By Melissa Jackson
BBC News Online health staff

Madonna performing in concert
How does Madonna do that?
She puts the celebrity heavenly body into a league of its own. How does Madonna do it?

Pictures of the pop diva bending over backwards during an energetic concert performance would put most teenagers to shame, but at 45, she is old enough to be their mother and probably twice as fit as them.

As concerns over obesity and our increasingly sedentary lifestyles regularly hit the headlines, maybe it is time to take a leaf out of Madonna's book.

Experts say that flexibility and suppleness are within the grasp of most people with just a small amount of effort and commitment.

So Madonna's body is a product of years of well thought-out programming.

She has a passion for yoga and a commitment to a strict diet and exercise regime.

But suppleness and flexibility are within the grasp of the average couch potato by making a few lifestyle changes and understanding how our bodies work.

And the younger you start, the better your chances of lasting results.

Pilates and yoga are great for flexibility and I advise patients to take up this type of exercise
Tim Hutchful, Chiropractor
Of course there are genetic differences and some people will be born with natural flexibility and suppleness, while most of us will have to work at it.

The key to greater flexibility is exercise, combined with stretching out the muscles before and afterwards.

As we age, or if we lead an inactive lifestyle, collagen cross-links form in the tissues that connect our muscles.

Over time, this collagen build-up limits our range of movement and causes stiffness, but stretching helps break apart this build-up to enable us to move more freely.

The best forms of exercise for suppleness and flexibility are yoga and Pilates.

Leicester chiropractor Tim Hutchful said: "My fittest patients are body builders and cyclists - they have strong muscles, but they are not flexible.

"Exercise in itself can cause problems because strong muscles tend to be less flexible.

"I know someone who has done upper chest work and has over-developed chest muscles and he is now round-shouldered.

"Pilates and yoga are great for flexibility and I advise patients to take up this type of exercise."

Yoga and Pilates tend to exercise, strengthen and lengthen muscles without adding bulk.

Inspirational star

Madonna is a fan of Ashtanga yoga, which is a more vigorous form of exercise and more physically demanding.

"The effects of yoga are gradual and long-lasting," said Emma Evans, from the British Wheel of Yoga - the governing body for yoga in Great Britain.

Suppleness and flexibility come from repeating the specific movements.

For some people, greater flexibility can come within a few months of taking up yoga, but for others it can take a few years.

Ms Evans said: "What is wonderful about Madonna is that she inspires people to practise yoga and if someone is drawn to practise yoga, that can only be a good thing."

Madonna performing in concert
Madonna shows she is super supple
Dr Hutchful broadly agrees with the views of yoga practitioner Anton Simmha, who recently suggested our reliance on chairs has ruined our posture.

He advocated that schools should encourage children to sit cross-legged on the floor to retain their childhood flexibility and keep their back muscles active.

"If you sit on the floor, your muscles are working, but if you are in a chair, invariably you tend to slump," he said.

Back problems are the mainstay of chiropractors' work, but as Dr Hutchful says: "The more supple you are, the less likely you are to have a bad back."

Our sedentary lifestyles, which begin at an early age, are also to blame for our lack of flexibility.

Dr Hutchful said his research showed that some 11-year-olds spend 48 hours a week in front of a computer or TV.

"From a general observation, our children are getting stiffer because they are not moving around."

He would like to see children doing more exercise and, in school, he thinks it is important for teachers to incorporate stretching at the beginning and end of each session.

He said: "You're never too old to exercise and never too young to start."

So what are you waiting for?

If you covet Madonna's body, you have probably got a lot of work to do. There is no time like the present.

Just one note of caution. Madonna was forced to postpone the second night of her concert tour in Los Angeles due to stomach flu.

Even the super-fit are not super-human.

More focus needed on flexibility
06 May 04  |  Health
Why mobile phones may hurt backs
18 Nov 03  |  Health


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