Incorporating stretching exercises for seniors is a core principle at Care As One for improving quality of life. As we get older, building flexibility is a key component of staying strong, mobile, and full of vitality, leaving us feeling capable of doing anything we want to do.
Quite often, a decrease in mobility isn’t noticed until a surprising injury occurs, e.g. pulling a muscle while reaching for something in the cupboard or slipping a disc picking up something from the floor.
Since the effects of aging are gradual, many do not notice at first the loss of bone density or deterioration of muscles that make them more susceptible to dangerous accidents and injuries.
Introducing a stretching routine alongside a more active lifestyle is crucial for longevity. Having a full range of motion in your joints and stamina will help you gain more independence while relying less on medical assistance and equipment for your daily activities.
It’s no secret that dancers, yoga practitioners, and other fitness professionals tend to enjoy greater flexibility and strength in older age. While having a lifetime of practice is a certain advantage, it is never too late to aim for the same even at a later stage in life.
Here are just some of the benefits of introducing regular stretching exercises as a senior:
Improves blood circulation: Just moving your body and stretching it in all directions helps to increase blood flow, allowing more oxygen and nutrients to circulate and revitalize muscles and joints. Feeling sluggish? Getting a good stretch in or a brisk walk will instantly unfog the mind, lift your spirits, and leave you energized!
Prepares your body for action: Stretching first thing in the morning or before partaking in any exercise or activity, helps your muscles loosen up and get ready to take on higher impact movement than it is used to. Much like revving up a car engine, sometimes our bodies need a similar warm-up to signal our next movements.
Slows down joint degeneration: Daily stretching increases the range of motion in your joints, preventing muscle stiffness and age-related joint degeneration. If you don’t use it, you lose it, so make sure your joints remember all the directions they can go in!
Aids recovery: Stretching after exercise helps your muscles recover a lot faster by keeping them loose, limber, and supple, rather than tightened, stiff, and painful. Warming-down with stretches is just as important as warming-up
Supports posture: All muscles are important, but those supporting your lower back, shoulders, and chest are critical for the protection of your spine. Keeping your back strong and flexible is key to maintaining a good posture and avoiding spine-related illnesses or diseases. Maintaining hamstring, hip flexor and pelvic muscle flexibility also helps to relieve stress on the lumbar spine, which decreases pain in the lower back.
Reduces injury risk: Flexible muscles are less susceptible to injury, especially if you make a sudden move that is out of the ordinary. Stretching increases the range of motion in your joints, while strengthening surrounding muscle tissue for further protection.
Manages stress: It may not feel that way when you first start stretching, but over time, you’ll start to feel muscle tension wear away, which in turn induces relaxation. Stretching allows your muscles to ease up, while increasing circulation of essential nutrients and oxygen to where it is needed in the body.
Boosts brain power: Stretching is great for the mind as it increases your blood flow and circulation, resulting in a better mood and sharper thinking. Makes a fantastic combination with sudoku and crosswords!
When talking about stretching, there are generally two types you can do. Static, or dynamic stretching.
Static stretching: As the name suggests, static stretching is usually performed in one place and involves holding a stretch for 30 seconds to one minute. The focus is on extending a particular muscle, or muscle group with a stretch is held steady and static, with not much movement. Static stretches are great for beginners and those wanting to maintain flexibility with minimal physical exertion.
Dynamic stretching: Unlike static stretching, dynamic stretching is focused on mimicking real-life movements to stretch muscles and increase their range of motion. This type of stretching is more active and in the long-term, more effective for improving flexibility and stamina. It also helps to increase circulation and get oxygen pumping throughout the body.
A lot of people tend to put off exercise because of fear of injury. Certainly, there are some more strenuous activities that need watching over by an instructor, such as yoga, however, stretching is something anyone can do at any age with minimal risk. Still, here are a few things you need to bear in mind before you start:
The Do’s of Stretching:
The Don’ts of Stretching:
Now that you have some idea of what you should and shouldn’t do during your stretching sessions, it’s time to start with these simple stretches.
Each of the following 10 static stretch exercises is designed to last 1 minute each, for a total duration of 10 minutes. Ideally, these exercises should be done once a day for maximum effect, but if you can do more, e.g. at the start and end of each day, your body will thank you greatly.
Once you get used to the movements, feel free to switch up the order of the stretches. One day, you can start with your upper body, the next, your lower body, or just mix up the exercises as you please. Bonus points if you can remember to stretch at multiple points throughout the day!
Warm-Up: First of all, do a quick warm-up to get the blood flowing to your muscles. This could be a brisk walk around the block, or a minute or two jogging on the spot. You want to make sure there is enough circulation of blood and oxygen to support your stretching without injury.
Stretch One: Arm Raises
Stretch Two: Hands and Wrists
Stretch Three: Chest
Stretch Four: Upper Back
Stretch Five: Lower Back
Stretch Six: Hamstrings
Stretch Seven: Quadriceps
Stretch Eight: Knees
Stretch Nine: Calves
Stretch Ten: Ankles
If you like the idea of trying out more challenging, dynamic stretches, you can also start including some of the following in your routine:
Stretch One: Hip Circles
Stretch Two: Arm Circles
Stretch Three: Arm Swings
Stretch Four: Heel-to-Toe Walk
Stretch Five: Lunges with a Twist
To make stretching an activity that’s more interesting, you can take up a hobby or sport that helps incorporate stretching movements naturally while giving you a skill to build on at the same time. Here are a few ideas:
Yoga: A popular choice for seniors, and with good reason. Yoga not only helps to improve flexibility, but also encourages better flow of energy throughout the body, leading to a feeling of lightness and relaxation. People suffering with osteoporosis are often advised to take up yoga to increase bone density, which can be achieved with consistent effort over time.
Pilates: If you’re not keen on engaging in the spiritual aspects of yoga, then pilates might be more for you. Invented by dancer and bodybuilder Joseph Pilates in the 1920s, pilates focuses on small, controlled movements that help to improve balance, strength and flexibility while focusing on correct breathing techniques. As with yoga, pilates can easily be modified for any level of fitness or age.
Swimming: While not as stretch-focused as yoga and pilates, swimming still requires a certain level of stretch to execute all the different swimming strokes. The range of motion in swimming helps to lengthen muscles and make joints more flexible, while improving cardiovascular performance. The buoyancy of being in water also helps to remove strain from the muscles, resulting in a more effective workout and easier recovery.
It’s never too late to work on improving your flexibility. Stretching should be an important part of anyone’s daily fitness routine, not just the elderly. Done regularly with the correct form and duration of stretch, most older adults and seniors can safely perform stretches without assistance.
As we age, our muscles are more prone to atrophy — wasting away. This comes as a result of long periods of inactivity, where muscles are not used and then broken down by the body to conserve energy. Injury, illness, poor nutrition, and genetics are all key contributing factors that cause muscle atrophy, which can then lead to other mobility issues.
Seniors can offset the effects of normal muscle and joint decline by focusing on exercises that promote flexibility and strength. Stretching regularly along with resistance training may help to reverse muscle atrophy, and even transform to muscle hypertrophy — gaining muscle!
Indeed, there are many seniors that take up bodybuilding as a form of physical therapy, to retain mobility, build muscle, and increase bone density. Of course, this should be supplemented by a diet rich in locally-sourced wholefoods and tailored to individual nutritional needs.
The great thing about stretching is that it is a good place to start being active for just about anyone. If you feel able to, you can do your 10-minute stretching routine multiple times throughout the day, and even throw in a few exercises while waiting in line somewhere or at the bus stop. Once you get used to the movements, you can think about adding strength training to your exercise program to combat muscle atrophy, or engage in a new hobby, like swimming or pilates.
Whatever you do, make it fun! The more enjoyable you find the activity, the longer you’ll be able to stick to it. Remember, stretching is beneficial for arthritis, back pain, posture, and general wellbeing. If you wish, you can even hire someone through us to help you with the exercise until you feel confident enough to do them yourself. Whatever or however you decide to do it, just get started.