As people get older, they lose some of their range of motion. They are at risk of experiencing discomfort, arthritis, and tighter muscles. The less range of motion a person has, the bigger the odds for falls and injuries.
Based on a recent clinical analysis, a decrease in the flexibility of the hip and shoulder joints by around 6 degrees per decade was found in older adults between 55 and 86. The flexibility in these joints significantly begins to decline after 70 years.
Experts believe with specific physical activity and stretching; people can influence this age-related loss and get their muscle strength back on track. Of course, you may not become a “human-like-pretzel,” as you might have been back in the day. But, you can give your body that joint and flexibility improvement it really needs.
The thing is, you can become flexible at ANY age! Want to learn more? Here you will take a closer look at everything in the human body as it grows older. You can also learn how stretching can boost your range of motion and help you enjoy a more comfortable life. Including the top most used stretching exercises that seniors use. So, let’s get right to it!
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Why Do We Lose Flexibility as We Age?
As the body ages, the system loses a fraction of its flexibility. This is a normal part of the aging process and can occur for a number of different reasons. Such as loss of water in the spine and tissues, a decline in muscle-tendon elasticity, and increased joint pain and stiffness.
The older we get, the bigger the impact this loss of flexibility can have on our everyday life. In many cases, reduced flexibility can prevent people from doing their daily chores and function properly. That’s why there is a tendency among seniors to stretch less, walk less, and sit more.
Just because your body loses flexibility doesn’t mean you can’t do anything to fix it. The truth is, seniors can be flexible. They can regain and maintain their flexibility. There are many renowned yoga teachers and fitness enthusiasts in their 60s, 70s, and 80s who remain highly flexible. All you need to do is work on improving your range of motion.
How Can Seniors Improve Flexibility?
Our body is a complex machine. It relies on multiple internal production processes to sustain itself and interact with the brain and various body parts. It is capable of regenerating its own tissues and cells. Even if you can’t prevent the flexibility decline due to old age, you can avoid loss of function.
As long as the body is working properly, the organs, tendons, and muscles can keep regenerating. The key is to do dynamic and static stretching. According to a controlled clinical trial, stretching can:
- decrease hip flexion contracture
- boost pelvis and hip joint range of motion
- improve gait performance
Scientists evaluated 20 older adults and divided them into two separate groups. The first experimental group of seniors took 12 sessions of a stretching exercises, while the control group avoided doing any flexibility exercise. Experts analyzed their gait performance before and after the 4-week testing period.
Data shows that those who incorporated a stretching routine had higher velocity, increased step length, and decreased double support time post-training. They also displayed better rotation, lateral, and anterior pelvic tilt.
Simply put, to work on your ability to move and your posture, a stretching routine seems like a viable option.
A static stretch is a preferred choice for creating lasting results for the muscles and their surrounding tissue. Whereas oscillatory or dynamic motions are meant to relieve the joint discomfort and let the joints work better. Static stretching is the ideal option for seniors.
What Makes Stretching So Beneficial?
As reported by the American Council on Exercise, regular stretching has a lot more to offer than people realize. It has countless benefits, each uniquely impacting the body. These include:
- Quicker recovery: When you stretch, you increase the number of new nerve connections in the brain. This is a crucial component in the natural healing process. With each stretch, you loosen the muscles and ease the stiffness.
- Reduced back pain: Regular stretching provides better posture, which, in turn, eases the pressure on the lower back. With a pelvis and upper leg stretch, you also reduce the tension and back pain.
- Better blood flow: For the joints and muscles to function properly, they need normal blood circulation. By speeding up the blood flow, stretching allows the body to deliver essential nutrients through the entire system.
- Relaxed muscles: Any dynamic stretch can help the body better handle sudden movements. When a muscle is too stiff and tense, it means it’s not getting enough nutrients and oxygen. That’s where stretching comes into play. With a simple stretch, you boost the nutrient and oxygen levels and allow the muscles to relax.
- Less stress: A stretching routine provides both physical and psychological benefits. Remember, your mindset plays a key part in how age reduces your flexibility. Altering your thinking pattern changes your physiology. When you stretch, you take a couple of minutes to focus on your breathing. That focus helps you meditate, and meditation can be highly beneficial for easing stress and mental unrest.
Top 7 Most-Used Stretching Exercises for Seniors
Your stretching or exercise routine needs to be relatively simple. But, before you try any of the stretching exercises for seniors listed here, it’s important to talk with your doctor or physical therapist if you have an underlying condition or serious injury.
They will review your stretching exercises and ask you to implement a different routine if it interferes with your current illness. Here, you will take a look at some of the most useful stretching exercises for seniors, as well as easy chair exercises.
- Don’t forget to warm up the body before you stretch. Go for a walk for at least 5 to 10 min.
- Stretch the body only until you feel slight tension. Don’t stretch too far to the point that it becomes painful.
- Avoid bouncing when stretching. It can make you vulnerable to injury.
- Focus on your breathing. Take deep breaths and exhale slowly. This helps the body relax and enjoy the exercise.
1) Chest Stretch
According to experts, a major percentage of the things we do in life make our chest muscles become shortened and hypertonic, which limits arm and shoulder flexibility. The anterior deltoid, pectoralis, and biceps are all muscles found in the front of the body.
Tightness around the pectoral muscles causes postural deviation, commonly referred to as forward rounded shoulders. That’s why many seniors experience shoulder pain and limited range of motion. Stretching this region is a great way to work with the connective tissue.
It helps with body posture and alleviates the pain and discomfort to a certain degree. When you execute a regular chest stretch exercise, you can experience continual improvement. One of the stretches you can try is an above-the-head chest stretch.
To do it:
- Take a seat on the floor.
- Tuck your foot under the opposite leg.
- Raise the arms over your head and interlock the fingers at the back of the head.
- Do a gentle squeeze to each shoulder blade and push them together while moving the hands and elbows backward at the same time.
- Take a deep breath and exhale every time you stretch the chest muscle.
Feel free to use a resistance band if you want to take your exercise to the next level. It can also be a great shoulder stretch. But, do have in mind that the hands should be facing forward, not backward. That way, you will have a clear vision of your resistance training.
2) Seated Hamstring Stretch
Hip and foot muscles are important for rotational control. You need properly functioning muscles to have that ideal control. Working with the hamstrings can help. Here is why.
The hamstrings are essential at extending the hips and bending the knees. Hamstrings cross not 1 but 2 joints, which means they are biarticular muscles. When you stretch the hamstrings, you also do a hip stretch. Experts estimate that most sciatica types can benefit from this kind of stretching.
The exercise can relieve the inflammation and relax the piriformis muscle. This is a seated exercise, which is exactly what you need when you want to ease the regular discomfort. To do it, sit on a comfortable chair. Place another chair right across from you.
Position one foot on the floor and the other stretched out. Put the stretched leg on the other chair. Toes up and engage the abs. Bend forward with a straight back. Lower the upper body until you feel a mild stretch at the back of the leg. Try to touch the back of the stretched-out toe if you can.
Note: This stretch may not be recommended for individuals with hip replacement. If you have this health problem, consult a doctor before exercising or attempting any hip flexor stretch.
3) Quad Stretch
A strong quad muscle helps with poor posture and balance. It ensures safety when you try to lift something up. It also helps you maintain stamina in the long-run. In seniors, a weak quad muscle can easily get injured.
Since the tight muscle and tension can lead to knee and backache, it can decrease your mobility on a regular basis. Doing a useful stretch can enhance your athletic performance and rehabilitate the body after a sprain or injury. Here is how you can stretch this particular muscle.
Stand on the floor and hold onto a chair or wall. This will give your upper muscles stable support. Bend the right knee and bring the right ankle up behind your bottom, as close to the backside as possible. Use your right arm to grab onto the foot and maintain that position. Do the same stretch with the other leg. This is one of those most-used balance exercises.
4) Calf Stretch
Your calves rarely get enough attention. They grow tight and weak that increases your susceptibility to injuries. For many seniors, it’s very difficult to keep the calves in ideal shape. If you want to avoid possible ankle and foot issues, here is a practical calf stretch that can help.
Stand close to a wall. Do a split stance and place one of your hands on that wall, just so that they will act as firm support. Put the left leg forward and the right leg back. Lean with your body forward while pressing the back heel towards the floor. Once you start feeling a gentle stretch, hold that position and repeat the same process by switching to the other leg.
5) Torso Stretch
Sitting for too long while making repetitive motions can add a lot of pressure to the torso muscles. A quick stretch can help you work with these muscles and improve your flexibility. To work with the upper body, sit on a chair and position one knee close to the other.
Keep your back straight, and clasp the hands together. Place the hands over the head with your palms facing outward. Focus all your effort into pushing the arms up and stretching the torso, particularly the chest and ribs. Hold this pose for a couple of seconds.
6) Back Stretch
Usually, a physical therapist, doctor, or spine specialist will suggest a simple backstretch for pain relief. You can use the exercise to decrease the chance of disability caused by backache. Stretching is meant to ease the occasional pain.
If you suffer from chronic ache, you will need a couple of weeks to even months of regular exercise to feel a drastic change. This is how you can stretch the back. For this exercise, you can sit or stand – it’s completely up to you.
What you need to do is clasp both hands in front of you. Press the arms away from the body while rounding the back at the same time. This gentle exercise is enough to engage the torso muscles and stretch the back.
7) Abdominal Muscles Stretch
Strength training for seniors may not always be the best option, especially for those who have serious problems in their left or right knee. That’s why an easy stretching exercise makes for a much better pick. The easiest way of doing that is to work with the core.
The core is made up of the back and abdominal muscles. It also features the muscles found along the spine. Working with the core can help with your limited mobility and give you the independence, coordination, stability, and stamina you’ve been looking for.
Just like the other simple stretching exercises for seniors mentioned here, this one can also be done in the comfort of your home. You will only need a comfortable mat and some room space to get it done. Here is a convenient abdominal stretch, known as the bridge, that can prove useful.
To do it, lay down on a yoga mat with your back facing the floor. Place the hands flat on the ground on each side. Now, push both heels into the floor and tighten the abdominal muscles and glutes. Then slowly lift the hips off the ground and back to the floor. To ease some of the pressure, feel free to bend the knees upward as much as you like. This is a basic exercise for improving spinal balance and core stabilization.
How Often Should You Stretch?
Regardless if you are doing standing or seated stretching exercises, it is best to stretch the major muscles 2 times a week, for around 10 minutes. The most practical option for seniors is to hold every stretch for 30 sec so that the muscles will have plenty of time to relax.
Stretching can also be paired with resistance or cardiovascular exercise if necessary. Most people need to perform 2 to 5 repetitions to experience a positive impact. However, during the first week or two, it is important to take it slow.
If you’ve led a sedentary lifestyle, doing stretches at an older age may prove difficult. So, doctors usually recommend that seniors remain committed to performing their routine as often as possible.
According to physical therapists, it’s a good idea to stretch first thing in the morning and right before bed. This gives the system a solid workout to start and end your day on a good note.
These stretches are meant to make you feel good without overexerting the body. The discomfort is expected to subside with time. Once sciatica reduces, seniors can cut back on their frequency of stretching and enjoy any easy exercises.
If you are worried about your routine and whether too much stretching can cause a problem, talk with your doctor. They can advise you on the approach you should take that’s best tailored to your needs.
What to Avoid When Stretching?
As you can see, stretching exercises for seniors can be very useful for stiff and tense muscles. But, just like any exercise out there, it’s important that you avoid hurting yourself and damaging the muscles.
Based on reports from the National Institutes of health, muscle-strain injury is a remarkably common problem.
When you don’t pay attention to your limitations and how much your body can and can’t handle, you can experience a serious injury. That’s why it is crucial to avoid anything that might get in the way of your functional restoration, tissue, and joint health.
Here are a couple of factors you should avoid:
- Avoid stretching an injured spot. Many adults believe they can do anything. They’ve been exercising for a long time, so they feel super confident in their abilities. But, this is a common mistake. A stretch is supposed to create a mild and gentle pull. It is normal for it to be mildly uncomfortable. But, when you stretch an injured area, that spot will feel painful. This is not a physical movement that will help with flexibility. It will only cause discomfort.
- Avoid stretching at high intervals. Even though this kind of training can be useful for the younger generation, it can strain older muscles. So, you should be extra careful to avoid hurting yourself.
- Avoid locking the joints when exercising. As an older adult, your joints will be prone to injury. You can prevent that with a slight bend in the limb whenever you are stretching. Also, try not to jerk too much. Since that could put some pressure on the joints.
- Avoid a stretch marathon. People want results, and they want them fast. That’s why they overdo it. They think the more they stretch, the better it is for the body. But that’s not a good choice for older adults. When you overdo it, you push your body to the point of pain. A 10 to 20 min session is more than enough to get the desired result. Be patient, and you will feel the positive impact.
- Avoid ballistic stretching. You’ve probably heard a thing or two about ballistic stretching. For athletes, it is a basic component of their warm-up routine. They use action-reaction bouncing to engage their joints and place them relatively quickly in an extreme range of motions. These active contractions are a great way of engaging the agonistic muscle groups. Unfortunately, this is not something an older body can handle. You can hurt yourself without proper assistance. Moreover, ballistic stretching is done under the careful guidelines of a qualified coach. Instead, you need to focus on relaxing the muscles and getting your joints back on track. Take it slow and let the body slowly reap the benefits of a simple stretch.
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Above all, stretching exercises have a ton of perks to offer for seniors. It is a practical way to engage the body, boost balance and stability. Most importantly, it requires minimal effort and equipment. What matters is that older adults incorporate stretching into their weekly schedule if they want to work on their relaxation and flexibility. It can help ease the discomfort from an inactive lifestyle. So, you can use the options listed here to revamp your fitness health and improve your quality of life. But remember, with just a little bit of effort, you can go a long way.