They're called "stretching exercises for seniors" for a good reason.
Flexibility is vitally important for older adults as we need to remain functional, agile and strong to deal with our everyday challenges.
As we age, shortening muscle and joint stiffness are a concern for many of us.
Hence, the following specific stretching exercises for seniors will help you stay fit and flexible. They are not however meant to improve your strength and endurance.
They are part of your overall exercise program – probably the most important one.
Before we start, my advice to you is to first see your doctor if you have any medical conditions, illnesses or injuries that need to be addressed by your physician.
You may experience a mild feeling of pulling and very slight discomfort. That is quite normal.
Just don't stretch too far – and without locking of joints. You want to gradually increase your range of motion – without forcing it.
Slow, steady movements are advised. Bouncing or jerking moves may cause muscles to tighten, even cause injury.
These stretching exercises for seniors are simple, yet relaxing moves to stretch the major muscle groups, including hamstrings, quads, calves, back, chest, neck, and arms.
Begin with a 5 minute warm up of light walking in place or on a treadmill or outdoors.
Walking will help elevate your heart rate and get needed blood flow to your muscles.
And, in case you do a full body workout, including cardio and weight and strength training, do the stretching exercises after the workout.
This will give you the best results.
Wear comfortable clothes and have 2 sturdy chairs (1 armless, 1 with armrests) and maybe a floor mat at hand.
At each session, repeat the exercises between 3-5 times.
Hold each stretch 10-30 seconds. Relax and breathe.
With increased flexibility, over time, try to stretch farther and thus gain more range of motion.
Let's start with (#1) Neck stretches.
You can do them while standing or sitting straight up in a chair.
With your feet flat on the floor, shoulder-width apart, turn your head to the right until you feel a slight stretch. Keep your head in a comfortable position (neck vertical). After holding 10-30 seconds turn your head to the left and do the same. Repeat.
Next up (#2) Shoulder stretches.
Standing with your back against a wall, feet shoulder-width apart, raise your arms and extend them to the side, level with your shoulder.
Now bend your elbows so your fingers point upward and your palms face forward. Try to touch the wall behind you with elbows and back of your hands. Feel the mild stretch. Hold.
Let your arms slowly roll forward, remaining bent at the elbows, to point toward the floor and touch the wall again with palms and elbows. Hold.
Repeat the alternate positions 3-5 times, as indicated above.
(#3) Chest stretches
Do this stretch while standing or sitting in a chair, with feet flat on the floor, shoulder-width apart.
Hold the arms out to your sides at shoulder height (like you did in exercise #2) with palms facing forward.
Slowly move your arms back and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Hold. Repeat.
(#4) Back stretches
Sit up toward the front of the chair with armrests. Keep your upper body straight. Your feet are flat on the floor, shoulder-width apart.
Slowly twist to the right from the waist without moving your hips. Turn your head to the right. Lift your right hand and hold on to the right arm of the chair. Place your left hand on the outside of your right thigh. If possible, twist farther. Hold the position.
Return to original position. Repeat on the left side.
Repeat both moves 3-5 times.
(#5) Ankle stretches
Securely sit toward the edge of your armless chair. Stretch your legs out. With your heels on the floor, bend your ankles to point toes toward you. Hold. Now bend ankles to point toes away from you and hold again.
Repeat both moves 3-5 times.
(#6) Calf stretches
Stand behind your chair, touching it for balance. Extend your right foot backward. Bend the left knee slightly. Reach the right heel toward the ground, keeping it on the ground if you are flexible enough. Hold. Release.
Now perform this move with the left leg. Repeat with alternating legs.
The remaining four exercises are performed while lying on the floor.
(#7) Back of leg stretches
Lie on your back (this is where the floor mat comes in handy) with left knee bent and left foot flat on the floor.
Raise right leg, keeping knee slightly bent.
Reach up and grasp right leg with both hands. Make sure your head and shoulders remain flat on the floor. Pull right leg toward your body until you feel a stretch in the back of your leg. Hold. Repeat.
Repeat 3-5 times with left leg also.
(#8) Thigh stretches
Lie on your side with legs straight and knees together. Rest your head on your arm.
Bend top knee and reach back and grab the top of your foot. If you can't reach your foot, loop a resistance band, belt, or towel over your foot and hold both ends. Gently pull your leg until you feel a stretch on the front of your thigh.
(#9) Hip stretches
Lie on your back with your legs together, knees bent, and feet flat on the floor. Try to keep both shoulders on the floor throughout the stretch.
Slowly lower one knee to the side as far as you comfortably can. Keep your feet close together and try not to move the other leg. Hold position.
Bring knee back up slowly. Repeat movement 3-5 times.
Do the same exercise using the other knee.
(#10) Lower back stretches
Lie in the same starting position as #9.
Keeping knees bent and together, slowly lower both legs to one side as far as you comfortably can. Hold.
Bring legs back up slowly and repeat toward the other side.
Do alternate sides for 3-5 times. At the end, hug the knees for a few seconds.
The following rule applies to all of the above stretching exercises for seniors --
Stop immediately if you feel sharp pain.
And as always – when exercising – have fun with it.
P.S. Some of the exercises I gleaned from (and therefore give credit to) the National Institutes of Health Senior Health website.
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