As seniors age, muscle flexibility and strength often decrease making it important to practice stretching on a regular basis.
Adding stretches—either to an existing exercise routine, or as a basic maintenance routine on its own—can help with flexibility, muscle soreness, and improved physical fitness.
Stretches are an easy way to maintain some physical activity, but a doctor should be consulted before engaging in particular stretches, especially if joint pain or previous injury has occurred.
It’s true that stretches are an effective and useful addition to any person’s daily routine. Yet, it takes on greater importance as a person ages. Older adults tend to slow down as they get age, in part because they feel their body doesn’t do things quite the same as it once did.
Even things that used to feel easier, such as getting up from a chair or doing basic chores can feel more difficult than they used to, and are accompanied by pain or soreness that feels limiting. This is fairly common, given that seniors tend to experience a decrease in muscle strength and flexibility. It’s often supported that exercise is beneficial for seniors, yet some may not be able to engage in high-impact workouts or intense routines. In this case, creating a stretching routine can be a great starting point to still achieve some level of physical activity.
What is Flexibility?
According to U.S Davis Health, flexibility is often seen as the ability of a person’s tendons and muscles to be able to “move through a pain-free, unrestricted range of motion.” The muscle elasticity allows for a greater ability to do things without debilitating pain, yet those tendons can tighten over time, particularly if they aren’t being used enough.
Stretches are an often overlooked, yet vital way for a person to improve upon and maintain flexibility. For seniors, in particular, there are stretches that can help improve day-to-day life, even if a high-impact workout is no longer the main option for physical activity.
What Are the Benefits of Stretching?
In addition to increasing flexibility, stretching has other benefits such as increased coordination, improved posture, better circulation and more.
Increased Coordination and Balance
A lower level of flexibility can lead to a lack of balance, which can result in avoidable injuries. Stretching regularly will ensure a person has a wide range of motion and improved coordination, helping seniors gain better balance in hopes of avoiding falls
Proper stretching techniques can lead to an increase in better posture, which can result in fewer aches that occur from too much muscle tension.
Adding stretches into a day-to-day routine can help increase blood flow and warm up targeted muscles, improving circulation in some areas. This can help keep muscle tissue healthy, as well as maintain proper motion and function of certain body parts.
Increased Physical Performance
Stretching techniques can help improve a person’s ability to do other tasks, like basic household chores, without experiencing as many aches and soreness as they typically would.
How to Prepare Before/During Stretching
Before starting any stretches, it’s important to prepare beforehand. Here are a few ways to do so:
Before starting, warm up by walking around for a few minutes (5–10 minutes is a good range).
Take deep breaths during each stretch.
Stay properly hydrated.
Do not bounce/move around too much during stretches to decrease potential injury.
Hold each stretch for a minimum of 10 (or in some cases, 30) seconds to ensure the stretches are effective.
Types of Stretches
It’s important to note that there are two main categories of stretches: dynamic and static stretching. Both static and dynamic stretches are important and can help achieve different results.
Dynamic stretching involves stretches that move the body through a full range of motion while tightening joints and moving muscles. These stretches in particular are ideal for decreasing muscle stiffness.
Static stretching involves moving a particular muscle as far as possible without feeling any pain, then holding that position for a specific amount of time. Static stretches are often most associated with a maintenance stretching routine, particularly to help reduce the risk of injuries.
Stretches for Different Parts of the Body
Here are a few stretching exercises for seniors that can easily be incorporated without equipment:
There are two different neck stretches that can be done.
Side Bend Stretch
Tilt head to one side, as if trying to touch ear to shoulder.
Hold the pose for 15 seconds.
Relax from the pose.
Repeat on each side 3 times.
Diagonal Neck Stretch
Turn head slightly to one side, then slowly look down as if looking at a hand or pocket.
Hold the pose for 15 seconds.
Relax from the pose.
Repeat on each side 3 times.
To stretch each shoulder, try this stretch:
One easy way to stretch your shoulders (and upper body/arms):
Sit or stand with your back straight.
Bring one arm across your chest, while using your other arm to hold it in place.
Hold the pose for 30 seconds.
Slowly relax from the pose.
Repeat with other arms.
To stretch triceps, try this stretch:
Stand with back straight and feet shoulder-width apart.
Bring the left elbow straight up while bending your arm.
Grab the left elbow with the right hand, and gently pull elbow toward the head.
Hold 15 to 30 seconds, then switch elbows.
Repeat on each arm.
To stretch chest muscles, try this:
Start by standing or sitting up straight then bring your arms straight up in front of you, with thumbs pointing up.
Keeping your arms straight move them out and back, keeping them parallel to the floor.
Hold for up to 30 seconds.
Overhead Side Stretch
To stretch each side, try this:
Place feet hip-width apart.
Keep each leg straight, but do not lock knees.
Raise both hands overhead, interlocking fingers if preferred.
Gently lean to the left and hold for 10–30 seconds.
Repeat with the right side.
To stretch hamstring muscles, try the following:
Lie flat on your back and extend your left leg perpendicular to the body.
Grasp around the back of the left thigh, gently pull the leg towards the head, keeping the right leg and hip on the ground, for about 10–30 seconds.
Do not pull on your knee when stretching.
Repeat with the opposite leg.
Standing Quadriceps Stretch
To stretch the quadriceps, try this stretch:
Stand on one leg. Using a sturdy chair or wall for support is fine if necessary.
Bend the right knee and bring the right heel toward the buttock.
Reach for the right ankle with the opposite (left) hand.
Stand up straight and pull in the abdominal muscles. Try to keep both knees beside each other.
Relax your shoulders.
Breathe deeply and hold the stretch for 20–30 seconds, release and repeat on the left leg, this time holding your ankle with your right hand.
Repeat stretch as needed.
To help stretch the hips, do the following:
Lie down flat on your back and bring one knee towards the chest.
Wrap both arms around the knee.
Stay in that position, or bring the knee across the body for a twist.
Hold for at least 10 seconds.
Repeat on the other side.
Lower Back Stretch
To stretch the lower back, try this:
Lie flat on back with arms at your side, or fold them across the chest.
Bend both knees and pull feet toward the body until they’re directly under the knees.
Keep your upper back in contact with the floor—do not raise up.
Tighten abdominal muscles to maintain form and balance.
Slowly raise the hips as high as possible.
Pause for one second, then lower.
Do 2–3 sets of about 10 reps.
A Few Things to Keep in Mind While Stretching
When creating and practicing a stretching routine, there are a few key things to keep in mind, such as:
Only stretch to the point of tension, not pain.
Consult with your doctor regarding which stretches are appropriate to do, especially if there has been any previous joint pain or severe injury.
Don’t hold your breath while stretching.
This graphic breaks down the various stretches seniors can do to move their bodies and stay limber.