For many older adults, maintaining mobility at an older age can be quite difficult. Our bodies, like any machine, undergo many changes as we age, which can make staying active and mobile all the more challenging. Through proper care and exercise, however, we can strengthen our muscles and joints to help mitigate changes and keep our bodies strong and flexible. Staying active and mobile can be a challenge, but maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle means that we are working our body’s muscles to stay strong and mobile well into old age.
In addition to muscle and movement maintenance, stretching exercises can help delay the onset of diseases, such as diabetes and arthritis – it can even improve mental health. Especially important for seniors, stretching exercises play a crucial role in fall prevention by helping you maintain your balance and overall strength.
Stretching exercises such as neck rolls, cat stretches and hamstring stretches can all help improve muscular flexibility, making activities that require flexibility – such as gardening, dancing or playing with children, easier on the body. If you’re finding it harder and harder to do these activities it’s a good idea to incorporate some stretching exercises for flexibility into your routine.
Have you thought about stretching as a gentle way to ease yourself into the day? Some studies suggest that, along with other forms of regular exercise, stretching could help you to relax, increase your flexibility, reduce lower back pain, and help to manage some other health conditions.
Stretching may not be the most exciting part of working out, but doing flexibility work is just as important for a well-rounded fitness routine as strength and cardio work. Incorporating some stretching exercises into your workout schedule will help you improve flexibility, reduce tightness, and ultimately, make your workouts more efficient and safe.
Stretching is something you probably know you should be doing. It’s also the part of the workout that’s very easy to skip. You may think you don’t have time for it or don’t need it. But a stretch session is one of the best ways to end any workout.
Flexibility exercise is one of the four types of exercise along with strength, balance and endurance. Ideally, all four types of exercise would be included in a healthy workout routine and AHA provides easy-to-follow guidelines for endurance and strength-training in its Recommendations for Physical Activity in Adults.
They don’t all need to be done every day, but variety helps keep the body fit and healthy, and makes exercise interesting. You can do a variety of exercises to keep your physical activity routine exciting. Many different types of exercises can improve strength, endurance, flexibility, and balance. For example, practicing yoga can improve your balance, strength, and flexibility. A lot of lower-body strength-training exercises also will improve your balance.
Flexibility exercises stretch your muscles and can help your body stay flexible. These exercises may not improve your endurance or strength, but being flexible gives you more freedom of movement for other exercise as well as for your everyday activities. It may also help you avoid discomfort when confined in a space for a long period of time (like a long meeting or a plane flight).
Stretching when your muscles are warm has a number of benefits:
- Builds greater overall flexibility
- Relieves stress
- Helps your body get back to its pre-exercise state
- Gives your mind and body a chance to reflect on the workout you just did and feel its impact
- May reduce post-exercise muscle soreness and stiffness
The best time to do flexibility exercises is when your muscles are already warm so they can stretch farther without tightness or pain. If you’re doing only stretching exercises, warm up with a few minutes of easy walking first to warm up your muscles. If you’re doing endurance or strength exercises, stretch after, not before.
Stretching Exercises for Better Flexibility
Standing Hamstring Stretch
The hamstrings are very susceptible to injury, and people who participate in sports that involve running or sprinting are prone to developing tightness or injury in these muscles
- Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent, arms by your sides.
- Exhale as you bend forward at the hips, lowering your head toward floor, while keeping your head, neck and shoulders relaxed.
- Wrap your arms around backs of your legs and hold anywhere from 45 seconds to two minutes.
- Bend your knees and roll up when you’re done.
Knees to Chest Stretch
The knee to chest stretch is used to stretch your hip and low back (lumbar spine) muscles. It should also help relieve pressure on spinal nerves by creating more space for those nerves as they exit the spine.
- Start on your back.
- Gently pull one knee towards your chest, using your hands to hold your leg in the stretch.
- Hold 10 seconds. You should feel a stretch in your low back and hip.
- Switch legs and pull your other knee towards your chest, again holding 10 seconds.
- Repeat 3-5 times with each leg.
- Bring both legs to your chest, holding 10 seconds and repeating 3-5 times.
Also known by the experienced yogi as the Bhujangasana, this is a stretch exercise that is especially useful for people who have sedentary lifestyles such as those who spend their days sitting. The cobra pose was adopted from the cobra yoga stretch where the cobra snake raises its head and spreads its neck ready to strike. This exercise is especially popular in how to stretch your abs.
Cobra pose benefits include getting one’s buttocks toned, making muscles stronger – especially the spine muscles, and lengthening the shoulders, neck, abdomen and lungs. This exercise is also a very effective in how to stretch abs. The cobra yoga stretch exercise is also effective in stimulating the digestive organs and also in alleviating stress.
Lie on your stomach and place your hands flat beneath your shoulders. Tuck your elbows in by your sides and gently raise your head and chest, keeping your hips and groin on the bed. If it feels comfortable, you can go a little deeper by lifting your tummy off the bed too. Remember to relax your neck and shoulders. Hold the stretch for 15-20 seconds and when you’re ready, gently lower back down.
Powerful quads can help you to keep your balance while sparring, ensure safety during weight lifting, and maintain stamina during a long run. Just like any other important muscle in the body, your quadriceps can easily suffer from injury.
The benefits of stretching are indisputable. Stretching is one of the most under-utilized techniques for improving athletic performance and rehabilitating after sprains or injuries. Not only does stretching increase your flexibility and range of motion, but it also improves circulation, reduces your risk of injury and stiffness, and boosts your ability to perform during various exercises.
- Stand on your left leg, one knee touching the other. You can hold a chair or the wall to keep you steady if needed.
- Grab your right foot, using your right hand, and pull it towards your butt. Be sure to push your chest up and hips forward. Try not to worry about pushing your foot too close to your backside; your focus should be on feeling the stretch in your quad muscle and pushing your hips forward to get a good hip flexor stretch.
- Hold the position for 20 to 30 seconds, then repeat, switching from your left leg to your right.
Seated Knee to Chest
This lower body stretch is a necessary exercise for seniors as it impacts more than just your legs. The knee to chest stretching exercise improves mobility in your hips and knees by stretching the joints, while also improving the flexibility of your lower back. A nice added bonus about this stretch is that you don’t need to stand!
Here’s how to get started:
- Like the last exercise, limber up a bit by doing some light walking to warm up your legs.
- Sit comfortably in your chair, and while seated, grasp your right knee and slowly pull it towards your chest.
- Once you feel the stretching sensation, hold this position for 10 to 30 seconds.
- Gently guide your leg back down to the floor and repeat this exercise with your other leg.
How many times do you rub your neck each day, wishing for a massage? If you’re like many people, probably several times a day. Shoulder rolls can alleviate pain and tension by encouraging the flow of nutrient- and oxygen-rich blood to tight muscles in your neck.
- Start by standing or sitting tall with a proud chest, neutral spine, and engaged core. Pull your shoulders back and down. Keep your gaze forward.
- To begin the shoulder roll, shrug your shoulders up toward your ears as high as you can. Do this without hunching your back, protruding your neck, or allowing your shoulders to collapse forward.
- Once you shrug up as high as you can go, squeeze your shoulder blades together to pull your shoulders back.
- Engage your mid-back to pull your shoulders down.
- As you reach the neutral starting position, slightly round your upper back to push your shoulders forward while maintaining a strong core.
- Shrug up again to start another shoulder roll.
- Complete 10 to 15 shoulder rolls, resting 30 seconds before going into a new set. Try for three to five sets.
Cat-Cow is a gentle flow between two poses that warms the body and brings flexibility to the spine. It stretches the back torso and neck, and softly stimulates and strengthens the abdominal organs. It also open the chest, encouraging the breath to become slow and deep.
- Begin on your hands and knees in table pose, with a neutral spine. As you inhale and move into cow pose, lift your sit bones upward, press your chest forward and allow your belly to sink.
- Lift your head, relax your shoulders away from your ears, and gaze straight ahead.
- As you exhale, come into cat pose while rounding your spine outward, tucking in your tailbone, and drawing your pubic bone forward.
- Release your head toward the floor — just don’t force your chin to your chest. Most importantly, just relax.
Doing the piriformis stretch can ease knee and ankle pain as well, Eisenstadt says. “Walking with a tight piriformis puts extra strain on the inside and outside of your knee joint, making the outside too tight and the inside weak, which creates an unstable joint.”
The piriformis muscle is a deep internal hip rotator, located on the outside of the butt. Its primary role is external rotation, Atkins says. “Deep internal rotators, while small, produce a lot of the movement at the hip and are often overlooked.” Since the piriformis crosses over the sciatic nerve, “if it is tight, it can result in sciatic nerve irritation,” Cyrelson says. “Stretching this muscle can prevent potential future sciatica, or help treat it.”
- Sit on the floor with both legs extended in front of you.
- Cross your right leg over your left, and place your right foot flat on the floor.
- Place your right hand on the floor behind your body.
- Place your left hand on your right quad or your left elbow on your right knee (as shown) and press your right leg to the left as you twist your torso to the right.
- If the spinal rotation bothers your back, take it out and simply use your left hand to pull your right quad in and to the left.
Supine Twist Stretch
Supta Matsyendrasana stretches the glutes, chest, and obliques. Because of the chest stretch, it is considered a heart opener. It improves spinal mobility and can aid digestion. It is a relaxing pose at the end of a yoga session. In everyday life, your posture will benefit from this antidote to sitting and hunching over work.
- Lie down on your back.
- Bend your knees and put the soles of your feet on the floor with your knees pointing up toward the ceiling.
- Press into your feet to lift your hips slightly off the floor and shift them about an inch to your right. This is an important step because it sets your hips up to stack one on top of the other when you move into the twist.
- Exhale and draw your right knee into your chest and extend your left leg flat on the floor. Keep your left foot actively flexed throughout the pose. Inhale.
- Exhale and cross your right knee over your midline to the floor on the left side of your body. Your right hip is now stacked on top of your left hip. You can hook your right foot behind your left knee if you like.
- Open your right arm to the right, keeping it in line with your shoulders. Rest your left hand on your right knee or extend it to make a T shape with the arms. Turn your palms toward the ceiling.
- Turn your head to the right, bringing your gaze over your shoulder to your right fingertips. You can skip this step if it doesn’t feel good on your neck.
- On your exhalations, release your left knee and your right shoulder toward the floor.
- Hold the pose for five to 10 breaths. To come out of the pose, inhale and roll onto your back, drawing your right knee into your chest. Release both legs to the floor to neutralize your spine for several breaths before doing the other side.
When you are in a twist, you will be essentially compressing your digestive organs – placing them under weight. This will cause a lack of circulation. When you release your twist there will be a rush or fresh blood that will flood your digestive organs. Fresh blood flow equals fresh oxygen and nutrients. Twisting will increase blood flow to the digestive organs, thus increasing their ability to function.
Lying on your back, raise one of your knees, and gently roll it over to the opposite side. Make sure both of your shoulders stay in contact with the bed at all times. If it feels comfortable, stretch one arm out to the side, keeping it in line with your shoulders, and slowly turn your head to face your outstretched arm. You should feel the stretch on the sides of your upper body and your lower back. Breathe deeply and repeat on the opposite side.
Chest and Shoulder Stretch
- Sit or stand and clasp your hands together behind your back, arms straight.
- Lift your hands towards the ceiling, going only as high as is comfortable. You should feel a stretch in your shoulders and chest.
- Hold for 15 to 30 seconds, repeating one to three times.
If your shoulders are a little tight, try just taking your arms behind you and out to the sides like an airplane.
This stretching exercise targets your lower back and your legs, a crucial component for maintaining flexibility in seniors. This stretch will decrease stiffness and keep your legs and back mobile and loose.
To start the stretch:
- Select a firm surface to sit on.
- Next, extend one of your legs out on the surface.
- Slowly lean forward, breathe and reach for your thigh, knee or ankle. (Be careful with this stretch as you do not want to hyperextend your hamstring). Next, hold this position for 10 to 30 seconds and gently lay your leg back down and repeat with the other side of your body.
Fallen Triangle Pose is an advanced yoga posture, but once you can get into this pose, you will reap the many benefits it has to offer.
- Begin in a Downward Dog pose. While in a downward-facing dog, raise your right leg in the air for Three-Legged Dog.
- Press into your palms and draw your lifted leg toward your opposite elbow. Bend your knee and rotate your right foot toward the left side of the room.
- With your right knee near your left elbow, extend your right leg straight out to the side. Rest the outer edge of your right foot on the floor next to your mat. For an added challenge, hover your extended leg.
- Root down through the palm of your right hand, and reach your left arm skyward. “Moving into a slight external rotation in the bottom hand can be really helpful,” Anjanette says. “Too much internal rotation can cause pinching and can be rough on the rotator cuff muscles.”
- Turn your back heel down (inwardly) toward the floor.
- Lift your hips toward the ceiling and engage your glutes.
- Keep your shoulder stacked over your wrist or move into a slight backbend for a heart-opener expression.
The triceps brachii is a muscle located at the backside of the upper arm. It serves as an antagonist to the bicep, and its primary function is elbow extension.
As its name suggests, the tricep is a three-headed muscle – it has a lateral, medial, and long head.
The lateral and medial heads originate at the humerus and insert into the forearms. Thus both of them cross a single joint – the elbow. The long head, however, originates at the scapula and also crosses the shoulder joint. Raising your arms over your head helps create an intense tricep stretch in the long head.
- Kneel, sit, or stand tall with feet hip-width apart, arms extended overhead.
- Bend your right elbow and reach your right hand to touch the top middle of your back.
- Reach your left hand overhead and grasp just below your right elbow.
- Gently pull your right elbow down and toward your head.
- Switch arms and repeat.
The neck is an important structure that supports the head and the cervical spine. Because of this, the neck most commonly experience stress and tension leading to pain. Neck pain usually involves muscle spasms and strain. The presence of problems on the muscles and bones at the neck causes limitation of motion of the neck joint. Most commonly, people complain of stiff neck or the inability to rotate the neck to one’ side with significant tenderness and pain.
- You can do this stretch seated on the floor or in a chair. Either way, just be sure to sit up tall: Tighten your core, pull your shoulder blades back and down, and keep your chest high.
- Place your hands behind your head (palms touching your head) and clasp your fingers together. Your elbows should point out to the sides.
- Gently tip your neck forward, using the weight of your arms to apply subtle pressure.
- Hold the stretch for 30 to 45 seconds before returning your neck to its neutral position.
The bicep stretch targets the biceps brachii (biceps) but can also open the chest and shoulder muscles. This stretch, like all stretching, helps to relieve muscle tightness and tension caused by exercise stress or other daily activities.
- Sit on the floor/exercise mat with your head, neck, and spine in alignment. Avoid arching or rounding your back throughout the stretch.
- Bend your knees and maintain feet flat on the floor in front of your hips.
- Place your palms on the floor behind you, fingers facing away from your body.
- Adjust your body weight evenly between your feet, butt, and arms.
- Without moving your hands, exhale, and slowly slide your butt forward toward your feet until you feel a stretch in your biceps (you will also feel a stretch in the shoulders/chest). Avoid bouncing or stretching to pain.
- Hold the stretch for about 30 seconds.
- Return to start position
- Repeat for a determined amount of timed stretches.
Standing Hip Flexor
Last, but certainly not least on our list of stretches for seniors is the standing hip flexor. As one of many hip flexor stretches for seniors, this stretch is a great way to alleviate tightness or pain in your hips. However, it should be noted that this is a difficult exercise and may be better suited for more advanced folks. Here’s how to do it:
- First, grab a sturdy chair and stand with your feet facing the back of the chair, be sure to distance yourself far enough from the chair to lift your leg up.
- Then, holding onto the chair with both hands, keep one leg straight and lift your opposing leg towards your chest with your knee bent, bringing your knee as close to your chest as possible.
- Hold this position for about 10 to 15 seconds and repeat with your other leg.
Forearm stretches are interesting because the forearm itself is quite technical when it comes to all of the muscles. In order to deal with the movements of the elbow, wrist, and fingers, there are 19 muscles in the forearm.
How to: Start standing with arms extended straight out at shoulder height and palms facing up. Then, use right hand to gently pull left fingers down toward floor. Hold for five breaths, then switch sides and repeat. That’s one rep. Perform three.