Mobility is a critical factor for seniors to maintain their overall wellness and independence. However, for many older adults, preserving a full range of motion is no picnic. This is because muscles and joints weaken and range of movement deteriorates as we age. Slowing down our daily routines and actions to avoid injuries might seem like the logical solution.
Unfortunately, the old saying, “If you don’t use it, you lose it,” rings true. When the body is primarily inactive, it gets weaker. Muscles start to shrink, and basic movements become nearly impossible, not to mention joint pain can be amplified. At this point, many seniors turn to prescriptions or assistive medical equipment for help. Methods like these just put a band-aid over a much deeper problem.
Fortunately, there is a solution that is both proactive and gentle for seniors looking for alternatives: stretching exercises. Consider incorporating stretching into your daily routine for its many health benefits. Some perks of daily stretching include development and maintenance of strength, improving flexibility, and increased circulation and blood flow, to provide a higher quality of life and healthy aging.
If you’re not sure where to start here are five stretches that every senior should know.
1. Neck Side Stretch
This is a simple stretch that’s perfect for the morning. The neck side stretch loosens tension in your neck and the tops of your shoulders. If you're experiencing any pain or discomfort from sleeping in the wrong position, you'll find this handy.
Start by sitting tall in a chair. Gently lean your head to the right as if trying to touch your ear to your shoulder. Then transition back to its regular position, and lean downwards. Finally, from the center position, gently lean your head to the left. For a more intense stretch try lifting your right arm up and over your head, resting your palm gently on the left side. Gently pull your head to the right. If you find that to be too much, try resting your hand on your head. Remember to hold for 20 to 30 seconds, then repeat on the other side.
2. Shoulder and Upper Back Stretch
If you've ever had a stiff back, you know how debilitating it can be. The culprit behind this pain is most likely sitting for too long. Sitting can make your shoulders and upper back round forward. Over time, it can be hard to stand up straight, since the muscles are so used to being in a hunched position. This stretch is great for loosening up the muscles and improving spinal flexibility, both of which can help you stand straight.
Begin by standing tall with arms near your sides. Reach behind you with both hands, pull your shoulders back, and interlock your fingers. If you feel a stretch already, hold it there. To intensify this stretch, push your interlocked hands away from your lower back and gently arch backward. Then return to standing tall and repeat.
3. Bent Arm Wall Stretch
A significant portion of what we do in life is in front of us, so it’s common for our chest to be stronger and tighter. However, over time the tightness in our chest can be restricting and impede on your daily activities. One cause of over tightened chest muscles is poor posture. By lengthening these muscles, you can improve your posture. This stretch focuses on one chest muscle at a time.
Being in a split stance, which means the left leg on the front and right leg on the back, and stand at the end of a wall or in a doorway. Then bring your right arm up to shoulder height and position the palm and inside of the arm on the wall surface or doorway. Your arm should look like a goal post. Finally, gently press the chest through the open space to feel the stretch.
Moving the arm higher or lower will allow you to stretch various sections of the chest. Remember to repeat the action on your other side.
4. Hamstring and Low Back Stretch
This gentle stretch targets the lower back and hamstrings. Prolonged sitting or poor posture usually cause tightness in the lower back and hamstrings.
For this stretch start by lying face-up on your bed or floor. Bend your right leg and slowly move it toward your chest. Remember to keep your shoulders flat on the floor as you reach your arms around your right knee and pull it toward you. You should feel a stretch through your low back, glutes, and hamstring. For this stretch, make sure to hold for 30 seconds, and then repeat on your opposite leg.
5. Ankle Circles Stretch
Usually, you wouldn’t think to stretch your ankles, but it’s a crucial part of your body to keep in mind. Maintaining the flexibility in your ankles can be the difference in your ability to walk. For example, a stiff ankle can make it easier to have a fall by throwing off your balance. This is another simple stretch that can be done in a sitting position.
Start by finding a chair to sit in, and remember to sit up tall. Extend your right leg out in front of you, while keeping the other on the floor. Begin by rotating your right ankle; 10 to 20 rotations clockwise and 10 to 20 counter-clockwise. Then lower your leg and repeat on your opposite leg.
Stretching may seem like a simple solution, but it’s a great way to listen to what your body needs. The majority of stretches talked about today can be adjusted to accommodate different levels of flexibility. When you work with your body instead of against it you can expect continuous improvement with results that last.