It’s never too late to get your stretch on.
In fact, if you’re a senior looking to gain more independence, mobility, and flexibility (which can help you avoid falls and other injuries), stretching just might be your new best friend.
Studies have shown that with age, flexibility decreases by up to 50 percent in some joints. Since this decrease is gradual throughout your life, you may not even notice it. Then, one day you go to reach something or get up off the floor and … ouch! (1)
It’s at this point many seniors turn to prescriptions, assistive medical equipment, or even in-home assistants to help them perform daily activities.
Feel More Limber: Stretching Exercises for Seniors
And of course, while these options have their place in serious, advanced cases, what options are there for people who want a more proactive approach?
Luckily, studies prove that you can slow down the loss of flexibility if you stretch and do range of motion exercises.
This is where our list of nine stretching exercises for seniors come into play.
These stretches include a combo of:
- static stretches that will improve your flexibility, and
- dynamic stretches that will improve your range of motion.
Together, they’ll make you feel freer in your body, fast.
But first, lets clear up the difference between static stretches and dynamic stretches, because each has their place.
Static stretching involves holding a stretch for 30 seconds or more, and is focused on lengthening a specific muscle or group of muscles. The stretch is always held steadily, without any bouncing or pushing/pulling.
It’s also always important to warm up before jumping into static stretching, which we’ll discuss below.
Dynamic stretching is also designed to stretch a group of muscles, but in a more active way.
It essentially involves mimicking real-world movements while simultaneously stretching your muscles and getting your blood pumping.
Dynamic stretching is excellent for improving your range of motion, as it focuses on stretching completely through a natural movement.
- 12 Crucial Dynamic Warm-up Exercises to Do Before Your Workout
- A Guide to the 11 Best Dynamic Stretches for Runners
Afraid you’re so inflexible that some exercises will be impossible? Not to worry!
Some of these stretches can be made easier by using a yoga strap.
Yoga straps are inexpensive bands that can loop around parts of your body to help increase flexibility in that area.
For instance, the standing quadriceps stretch mentioned below is a great example of how you can drape a strap around your foot and pull the foot toward you if you can’t quite grasp it with your hands.
Best 9 Stretch Exercises for Seniors
In the stretches below, we combine the two aforementioned styles of stretching.
To increase your flexibility and mobility (basically, ability to “get around”) try to do these stretches every day, or as often as possible.
Be sure to include a 5 to 10 minute warmup before you start, doing light exercises such as walking in place and arm circles to get your muscles and joints warm before stretching.
1. Neck Side Stretch
This is one of the best morning stretching exercises for seniors, simply because it’s so simple.
This neck side stretch will loosen any tension in your neck and the tops of your shoulders from sleeping in the wrong position for too long, or perhaps from not having enough pillow cushion at night.
- Start by sitting tall in a chair. Gently lean your head to one side, then the next, to warm up your neck.
- Now lift your right arm up and over your head, resting your palm gently on the left side.
- Gently pull your head to the right (very gently – in fact just placing your hand there may be enough weight to cause you to feel the stretch).
- Hold for 20 to 30 seconds, then repeat on the other side.
2. Shoulder and Upper Back Stretch
Do you ever feel like you’re having a hard time standing up straight thanks to a stiff back? This is most likely due to sitting, which can make your shoulders and upper back round forward.
Over time, it can become hard to stand up straight, since the muscles are so used to being in a hunched position. This shoulder stretch will help loosen these muscles and improve spinal flexibility, so you can stand straight again.
- Begin standing tall, arms by your sides. Now, reaching behind you with both hands, pull your shoulders back and clasp your fingers together.
- If you feel a stretch already, hold it here. If you can go further, push your clasped hands away from your lower back and gently arc backward.
- Return to standing tall, and repeat.
3. Triceps Stretch
This triceps stretch can be done either standing or sitting, and is great for improving flexibility and mobility in the arms and upper back.
- Sitting tall in a chair (or standing), lift your right arm up over head, bending at your elbow.
- Now, reach your opposite arm up to clasp your elbow, and pull gently in the opposite direction. You should feel a light stretch through the back of your arm.
- Hold for 20 to 30 seconds, then switch arms.
4. Back Stretch
This back stretch is great for gaining greater mobility in your spine, and can even help with rounded shoulders. It’s also slightly dynamic, which will get your blood flowing.
- Start by standing tall, with your hands on your hips.
- Gently arc backward, looking up toward the ceiling. Hold for about three seconds, then return to standing.
- Repeat 10 times.
5. Standing Quadriceps Stretch
This stretch is excellent for lengthening the quadriceps muscle that sits at the front of your thigh. This area can often become shortened and tight from sitting or hunching forward, which can lead to pain and a worsening of bad posture.
- Begin standing tall, holding onto the back of a chair or countertop with your free hand for balance.
- Slowly bend your right knee and grasp your foot. At this point, you might already feel a stretch through the front of your thigh.
- Hold this stretch for 30 seconds, then repeat on the other leg.
- If you’re having trouble reaching your foot with your hand, try using a yoga strap or band, as mentioned above.
6. Ankle Circles
Stiff and/or weak ankles spell bad news when it comes to maintaining your balance. By gaining greater flexibility here, you create a first line of defense against falls and stumbles.
- Get comfortable in a sturdy chair, sitting up tall.
- Extend your right leg out in front of you, keeping the other on the floor.
- Begin to rotate your right ankle; 10 to 20 rotations clockwise and 10 to 20 counter-clockwise.
- Lower your leg and repeat on your opposite leg.
7. Seated Hip Stretch
Tight hips can often keep you from easily doing common activities, such as getting out of a car or bath tub. This hip stretch will help increase the flexibility in your hips, allowing you greater range of motion.
- Begin sitting tall in a sturdy chair.
- Cross your right leg over your left, letting the right ankle sit atop your left knee.
- Relax your right hip, letting gravity pull it toward the floor. You may already feel a stretch deep in your hip.
- To go further, gently press down on your right leg and the knee for a deeper stretch.
- Hold for 20 to 30 seconds, then switch legs.
8. Cat-Cow Pose
The cat-cow pose is actually a dynamic yoga stretch, great for increasing mobility and flexibility in the spine.
- Begin on the floor on all fours. Make sure your hands are directly beneath your shoulders and your knees are directly beneath your hips. Use extra padding (small pillows, towels, etc.) for extra padding if your knees are sensitive).
- Once you’re in position, inhale, arching your spine and lifting your head and chest toward the ceiling. Hold for a breath.
- Now exhale while pulling in your stomach and dropping your head and neck down (think like a startled Halloween cat).
- Repeat this movement as many times as you like, but do a minimum of 10 to 15 repetitions.
9. Hamstring and Low Back Stretch
This gentle stretch targets the lower back and hamstrings, which can become tight or painful due to prolonged sitting and/or poor posture.
- Come into this stretch by lying face-up on your bed or floor. Bend your right leg and slowly move it toward your chest.
- Keep your shoulders flat on the floor as you reach your arms around your right knee (if you can’t reach that far, try holding your pant leg) and pull it toward you.
- You should feel a slight stretch through your low back, glutes, and hamstring as you hold for 30 seconds.
- Repeat on you opposite leg.
Stretch Every Day
As you can see, the power behind relatively simple stretching can be enormous.
If you’re looking to gain more independence and control over your body as you age, I highly recommend making these stretches part of your everyday routine, and possibly even getting yourself into a regular exercise program.
Remember: a body in motion stays in motion.
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Yuri Elkaim is one of the world’s most trusted health and fitness experts. A former pro soccer player turned NYT bestselling author of The All-Day Energy Diet and The All-Day Fat Burning Diet, his clear, science-backed advice has transformed the lives of more than 500,000 men and women and he’s on a mission to help 100 million people by 2040. Read his inspiring story, “From Soccer to Bed to No Hair on My Head” that started it all.