Top 6 Stretching Exercises for Seniors & Why Stretching Is So Important as We Age
Aging. It’s not always fun, but it’s something none of us can escape.
Maintaining as much independence as possible while we age is critical for mental health, socialization, and self-confidence.
But, there are some unavoidable physical changes that accompany aging which can make it difficult for us to maintain independence without being proactive about physical activity.
One way to be proactive about reducing the effects of aging on our bodies is stretching.
Read on to learn more about why stretching exercises are so important for seniors, how they benefit our health, and six stretches you can start implementing into your daily routine.
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How Important Is Stretching as You Get Older?
As we age, our bodies go through many changes. These changes can directly impact our flexibility and, without property upkeep, can affect our ability to stay active and maintain high functionality.
Stretching is a very important factor in maintaining mobility so you can preserve your independence as you age.
At Senior Services of America, we understand the importance of maintaining independence. All our assisted living facilities provide many options for our residents to stay active and flexible.
5 Benefits of Stretching Exercises for Seniors
#1: Improved Range of Motion & Mobility
Range of motion and mobility are incredibly important as you age. They contribute to your ability to maintain regular function and perform even simple day-to-day tasks such as:
- Tying shoes
- Opening cupboards
- Cleaning house
As your joints begin to stiffen as part of the normal aging process, you naturally lose flexibility – causing your muscles to shorten and tighten.
Performing regular stretching exercises can help improve and maintain flexibility in your joints and muscles which, in turn, will greatly impact your range of motion and mobility.
#2: Reduced Risk of Falling
According to the CDC, the U.S. reports nearly 36 million falls per year in older adults. These falls result in millions of emergency department visits and over 30,000 deaths each year.
How can stretching (for seniors) reduce the risk of an accidental fall?
First, with improved mobility, as discussed above, comes a lower risk of experiencing a fall. Reliable mobility means a regular gait, and an even, long stride.
Second, stretching of the leg muscles can improve flexibility from your lower back through your calves – muscles that are crucial for balance and stability.
With improved …
- Balance; and
… falls should occur less often for older adults who stretch regularly.
#3: Improved Circulation
When you stretch, the temperature of your muscle tissue rises. This temperature rise increases circulation in the area around the muscles you’re engaging – keeping the tissue healthy.
Healthier tissue leads to healthier, more flexible muscles.
#4: Increased Energy Levels
Dynamic stretching – exercises that incorporate movement to stretch your muscles – increases blood flow and can improve circulation throughout your entire body.
Improved circulation leads to higher energy levels, making it easier to socialize and be independent.
This is why it’s a great idea for seniors to stretch in the morning right after they wake up for the day.
#5: Pain Relief
Many seniors experience pain in various parts of the body as a result of conditions like osteoarthritis, sciatica, and spinal stenosis.
While the pain associated with these conditions may come and go, they often get worse over time.
Because stretching improves the flexibility and elasticity of your muscles, a stretching routine is a great pain management option for seniors.
With greater flexibility and elasticity, you may find relief from stiffness and pain in your joints.
Tips & Precautions When Practicing Stretches for the Elderly
Before you implement any new stretching routine, it’s important to discuss your health with your doctor. Identify any stretches that wouldn’t be a good idea based on any physical limitations you might be experiencing or that would make your pain or discomfort any worse.
Once you have decided on the best stretches to start with, keep the following tips in mind:
- Warm-up your muscles before starting – get up and move around for at least five minutes.
- Do not stretch to the point of pain – stop once you feel tension in the muscle.
- Watch your breathing – inhale as you begin and exhale as you hold the stretch.
- Hold your stretch for as long as you’re able – but don’t exceed 30 seconds.
- Don’t bounce or move around as you stretch (unless you’re performing a dynamic stretch) – this can increase the risk of injury.
Senior Services of America facilities offer safe and effective physical activities for seniors to help our residents maintain independence.
The 6 Best Stretching Exercises for Seniors
The best stretching routine for seniors is one that includes stretches for the whole body. In the following sections, we’ll cover six simple stretches for the upper body and lower body.
This list is not comprehensive – there are too many stretching options to count. But, they’ll get you started and help you figure out which parts of your body you need to focus on the most.
3 Upper Body Stretches for Seniors
#1: Tricep Stretches
Tricep stretches help to maintain strength in your upper arms. Tricep strength is useful for pushing and throwing motions – meaning you can lift and play with your grandchildren for longer periods without pain and fatigue.
These stretches also help to:
- Lengthen your muscles
- Increase range of motion
- Boost circulation
Best news of all? You can do overhead tricep stretches with no equipment at all:
- From a standing or sitting position, keep your back tall and look straight ahead.
- Raise both arms up over your head and bend your left arm so your hand is behind your head.
- Put your right hand on your left elbow and slowly draw your left arm in toward your head.
- Hold for up to 30 seconds and repeat with your right arm.
#2: Upper Back Stretches
How many times do you reach for something throughout the day? A plate from a kitchen cabinet. Towels from the linen closet. The iron from the shelf in the laundry room.
The ability to perform such simple day-to-day tasks like these with full function and no pain, twinges, or tightness relies on the flexibility of your upper back.
Upper back stretching for seniors can help to improve mobility in the muscles of the neck, back, and shoulders. They can also prevent and provide relief from pain.
Simple, no-equipment upper back stretches that are good for seniors include:
- Spinal rotations
- Open chest stretch
- Roll down
- Wall angels
#3: Side-to-Side Stretches
Side-stretching exercises for seniors are a great way to loosen muscles in your shoulders, back, and abdomen. They also help to release tension and improve posture.
The easiest side stretch is the overhead side stretch which can be performed from a standing or seated position.
Choose whichever method is best for your current mobility needs and follow these steps:
- Raise your arms over your head and interlock your fingers if you’re able (if not, that’s okay)!
- Keep your back straight and your torso long. Try not to hunch forward – rolling your shoulders gently back can help.
- Slowly lean to the right and hold for up to 30 seconds.
- Return to your center and repeat on the left side.
3 Core & Lower Body Stretches for Seniors
#1: Hula-Hoop Hip Stretches
Hip stretches are incredibly important for seniors. As we age, our hip muscles naturally begin to stiffen. This can greatly affect mobility.
Stretching your hips:
- Maintains and improves range of motion – helps to keep your stride long
- Alleviates pain and stiffness – makes it easier to keep moving
- Improves balance – reduces your fall risk
A beginner hip stretch is the hula-hoop stretch. To perform this exercise:
- With your feet together in a standing position, place your hands on your hips.
- Imagine yourself hula-hooping. Circle your hips five times to the right and then five times to the left.
- Focus your movement on your hips – try not to move your shoulders and keep your stomach in and your core tight.
- Repeat a few times to your comfort level.
#2: Knee Extensions
Your knees take a lot of pressure over the span of your life. Like any joint, they tend to lose range of motion and flexibility with age. Maintaining these functions (and slowing the decline) is imperative to preserving independence.
Knee extensions are a great stretch for seniors to incorporate into their regular stretching routine.
Because this stretch can be performed from a seated position, it’s an accessible exercise for almost anyone:
- Sit up tall in a chair with your feet flat on the ground and your shoulders rolled back.
- Extend your right leg at the knee, holding your foot at a 90-degree angle (point your toes up, not forward)
- Hold this position briefly and engage the muscles at the front of your thigh.
- Put your right leg down and repeat with your left leg.
- Repeat up to 10 times for each leg.
#3: Sit to Stands
Having the ability to rise from a seated position is crucial to maintaining independence as you age. Think about how often you currently get up from:
- A chair
- The toilet
- Your bed
Now, imagine not having the ability to perform any of those actions without assistance. Pretty scary, right?
Sit to stands are a functional stretching exercise for seniors that help to strengthen your core, legs, and back muscles. They can be modified from a basic method to a super-advanced method.
For a basic sit to stand:
- Sit on a sturdy chair with your hips scooted forward to the edge.
- With your feet flat on the ground, pull your heels back so your toes are under your knees.
- Lean forward a little and use your legs to push up into a standing position – if needed, use your arms to push off of the chair or your knees as you rise.
- Sit back down by bending slightly at the knees and pushing your hips down to the chair.
- Take a quick pause before performing the next repetition.
How Often Should Seniors Stretch?
Unless you have a physical condition that can be exacerbated by stretching, there isn’t a limit to how often seniors should stretch. That being said, if you are transitioning from a sedentary lifestyle, it’s best to start slowly with light stretches 2 to 3 days a week for about 10 minutes per day.
Once you’re feeling comfortable and your body has adjusted to your routine, you can add additional stretches to incorporate more muscle groups and increase your frequency to 4 to 5 days a week or even daily.
Senior Services of America Understands the Importance of Staying Active in Your Senior Years
If you or your loved one is looking into senior housing options, Senior Services of America has lifestyle options ranging from independent living to memory care.
At each of our facilities, we value giving our residents options for staying active, healthy, and independent.
Find your nearest community today to learn more.