Many people experience joint pain and stiffness in their senior years, making walking, sitting comfortably, and even getting in and out of bed without assistance difficult. Riddle Village has long used stretching exercises to help seniors maintain their flexibility, balance, and independence for longer. Follow along as we outline the best stretching exercises for seniors and their benefits.
Importance of Stretching Exercises for Seniors
Joints are areas in the body where bones connect to facilitate movement in different directions. A padding called cartilage coupled with a lubricant called synovial fluid makes movement at joints safer and swifter.
However, as you age, cartilage cells take longer to regenerate and the amount of synovial fluid decreases, limiting joint mobility and flexibility. These changes make movement painful and increase the likelihood of older adult falls, which are the leading cause of injury and injury deaths among seniors.
Stretching exercises help the synovial fluid move around your joints, relieving tension in thinning cartilage that would otherwise make movement painful. These exercises also make your joints more flexible, enhance your balance and improve your posture.
Dynamic and Static Stretching
Flexibility refers to the range of movement in a set of joints. There are two types of flexibility: dynamic and static.
Dynamic flexibility is required to move joints in all possible directions. For example, you have dynamic flexibility if you can move your shoulder joint in a complete circle.
Static flexibility helps your joints maintain a particular position with or without support. You can test this ability by performing static stretches, such as lifting your leg straight up and holding the position for a few seconds.
It’s important to undertake stretching exercises designed to improve both dynamic and static flexibility.
Tips for Safe Stretching
These tips can lower the chances of injury while performing stretching exercises for seniors:
- Warm up: Take a 10-minute walk or lift light weights to prepare your body for stretching exercises and lower the likelihood of injury.
- Breathe: During exercise, inhale deeply when your muscles are relaxed and exhale when stretching to reduce cramping.
- Hold it: Studies on the effect of stretching time show holding a stretch position for up to 60 seconds greatly improves the ease of joint movement among seniors.
- Control it: Slow, controlled muscle movements are more effective than jerky, bouncy motions that can cause serious muscle and spine injuries.
Upper Body Stretches
Improve your range of motion with these seated stretching exercises:
- Neck stretch: Stare straight ahead and slowly turn your head to the right, count to 15, then turn it to the left. Lower your head down to your chest and repeat the turns. Lean your head back and repeat.
- Shoulder stretch: Hold your right elbow with your left hand and place your right hand on your left shoulder. Slowly pull the right elbow to the left until you feel it stretch. Hold the position for 15 seconds, then repeat with the left arm.
- Arm stretch: Slowly lift your arms above your head and hold. Bring them down on each side of your chest and hold. Repeat at least five times.
- Chest stretch: Place your palms on the back of your head. Inhale deeply, curving your back inwards until your chest muscles stretch. Hold, exhale, and repeat.
- Upper back stretch: Interlace your fingers behind you. Slowly lift your arms behind your back until you feel your shoulder blades flex. Hold, lower your arms, then repeat.
Lower Body Stretches
These stretching exercises can improve your flexibility, reducing discomfort when sitting or walking:
- Lower back stretch: Lie face-up on an exercise mat. Lift your knees at a 90-degree angle while keeping your feet shoulder-width apart on the floor. Spread your arms out on either side of your chest. Slowly tilt your lower body to one side, hold, then tilt to the other side. Repeat.
- Hip stretch: Lie sideways on the mat, supporting your head with an arm or a pillow. Press your knees together at a 90-degree angle in front of you. Slowly lift one knee toward the roof until you feel your hip stretch. Hold, lower it, turn to the other side and repeat.
- Hamstring stretch: Lie on your back and lift your left leg straight into the air. Interlace your fingers around the thigh of the lifted leg and gently pull it towards your face. Hold, lower the leg, and repeat with the other leg.
- Knee stretch: Lie down on your side with your legs pressed together. Bend your leg at the knee, lifting your foot toward your back. Gently pull the foot toward your back with one hand, hold, and repeat with the other leg.
- Ankle stretch: Lie face-up on the mat and fold your legs toward your chest. Hold both knees with your hands and move your ankles up and down, side to side, and in a circular motion. Repeat at least five times.
Balance and Flexibility Exercises
These exercises can improve your stability and flexibility, reducing the risk of dangerous falls:
- Tightrope walk: Place a straight line of tape on the floor. Stand at one end of the tape with your arms lifted to either side of your chest. Lift your foot, count to five, then place it down one step in front. Repeat with the other foot until you reach the end of the tape.
- Hip flexors: Stand with your back flush against a wall and place your feet flat on the floor. Slowly lift your leg until you can hold your knees against your body. Hold and repeat the movement with each leg.
Stretching Programs for Seniors
Experts recommend stretching the different muscle groups three times weekly for at least 10 minutes. Ask your physician to create an exercise routine you can follow throughout the week to improve your muscle strength.
Benefits of a Stretching Routine for Seniors
Sustaining a routine is easier when you have friends to keep you accountable. The residents at Riddle Village, the leading retirement community in PA, have a lot of fun exercising together in our state-of-the-art fitness center while receiving advice from our physical therapists on maintaining mobility and improving their flexibility and balance. Exercise improves mental health by reducing stress and anxiety, and boosting mood and cognitive function. This is another benefit that is especially important for seniors, who may be at risk for social isolation and loneliness.