As people get older, simple activities like getting in and out of bed, standing up from a chair, and improving a golf swing can become increasingly difficult. An easy way for seniors to combat stiff joints and a limited range of motion in their bodies is to implement a daily stretching routine, which is proven to improve flexibility and balance, reduce pain and stress, and limit risk of falling or injury. Check out the five following stretching exercises for seniors to help them stay healthy.
Before implementing any version of this stretching routine, seniors should consult with their doctor for tips on how to stretch safely and which stretches to avoid based on their physical condition. Older adults can pick one or two stretches to relieve a specific area of joint stiffness or muscle tension, or they can do all of the flexibility exercises at one time, as they are all gentle enough to be done daily. No equipment is required to do these stretches, though doing them while on a sturdy, non-slip chair can benefit those with physical limitations or looking to minimize the risk of injury due to falls.
A few tips for older adults that want to begin a daily stretching routine is to warm up the body with a 5 minute walk before stretching, take a deep breath and slowly exhale as they stretch, maintain engaged posture and only stretch until tension is felt in the muscle, not to the point of pain. It is best practice to hold each stretch for 30 seconds on each side of the body to give the muscle ample time to relax, and they may repeat each stretch for up to three rounds. The following five stretches are meant to be versatile, so we encourage seniors to follow them as they see fit.
Daily tasks such as grabbing objects from a high shelf can be challenging, and overhead side stretches can help senior citizens increase their reaching ability through an improved range of motion in their shoulders and upper body. To do an overhead side stretch, sit or stand tall with feet hip distance apart and raise arms overhead, with the option for clasping hands together with palms facing the ceiling. Keeping the torso long and abdominal muscles engaged, gently lean to the left until a stretch is felt on the right side of the torso and hold for 30 seconds, return to center, and then repeat on the right side.
Having a flexible range of motion in the shoulders is very important for senior citizens to maintain their independence with activities such as getting dressed or reaching across the dinner table. Stretching their shoulders will not only improve their range of motion, but will also increase flexibility in their ribs, chest and lungs. To practice shoulder rolls in a standing or seated position, bend arms at the elbow and roll shoulders back, making slow circles in the air with the elbows. Then, make circles with the elbows in the opposite direction to stretch the shoulders forward.
Tight hamstrings can contribute to lower back pain and difficulty walking. By stretching their hamstrings, older adults can increase their ability to lean forward and reach their feet and generally improve the flexibility of their lower back and legs. To do a standing hamstring stretch, place the left heel on a chair or bench with the leg straight and toes pointed up. Keep the back straight and gently hinge forward from the hips until a gentle stretch is felt in the left hamstring. Place the left foot back on the ground and repeat on the right side. To do this stretch seated, extend one leg straight in front with the heel of the foot on the ground while flexing the foot. With a straight back and engaged abdominals, bend forward at the hip until a gentle stretch is felt in the back of the leg. Repeat on the other leg. To note, if an older adult has had a hip replacement, make sure they check with their doctor before doing the standing or seated version of this stretch.
Maintaining good ankle flexibility will help relieve stiffness in the ankles that contributes to poor balance, ankle swelling, and will generally improve the range of motion of the ankle and foot. To do ankle circles, sit in a chair and lift one foot up off of the ground. Slowly circle the ankle in one direction a few times and then circle it in the opposite direction a few times. Place the foot back on the floor and repeat with the other foot.
Improving the range of motion in the neck and upper back is essential for good posture, relieving neck pain, safe driving, and other everyday movements. To stretch the neck, senior citizens should practice head circles on a daily basis. Simply turn the head to look over one shoulder, slowly drop the chip and circle the head around and bring it up to look over the opposite shoulder. Stretch the other side of the neck by dropping the chin again and circle the head back to the original side. Repeat this neck stretch by continuing to drop the chin to the chest and turn the head side to side. To deepen the stretch, gently place the palm of the hand on the top of the head as it moves from side to side.
As older adults practice these daily stretching exercises, it is important to remember that safety, comfort and remaining injury-free are the top priorities. Gentle stretching should not cause any physical pain, and breathing deeply and moving slowly through the stretches is key to safe movement for seniors. To minimize risk of injury, older adults should consult their doctor or physical therapist before starting a new exercise routine or seeing which stretches are best for them, particularly if they have any joint or muscle injuries or previous surgeries. No matter if senior citizens can practice one or all of these convenient and accessible stretches, they are sure to receive benefits such as improved flexibility, mobility and reduced stress and likelihood of injury. Encourage older adults to try this daily stretching routine to stay healthy today!