Top 10 Stretching Exercises for Seniors

Don’t make the mistake of assuming that, just because you’re aging, you should automatically expect to lose flexibility, mobility, and general fitness.
For seniors, it can be especially tricky to adopt this fixed mindset because the expectation often turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy. While it is true that, as we age, our muscles tend to become shorter and lose the natural elasticity of “youth,” there’s no reason why we shouldn’t—or can’t—keep our fitness levels optimal.

As seniors, the secret to maintaining one’s fitness and guarding against the inevitable biological changes of age is through stretching and maintaining flexibility. These stretches help to support mobility as we age and regular practice of stretching helps us move freely in all directions, translating into great activity and movement in life, free of restriction.

To help you start your routine, here are the top 10 senior stretching exercises that focus on preserving mobility, lengthening the muscles that naturally shorten as we age, and lubricating our joints at a point in time where we need it the most.

1. Overhead stretch

How to Do It

Begin by taking a deep breath in and stretch your arms up toward the ceiling. As you exhale, bring your arms back down.

Benefits for the Body

The overhead stretch awakens the body and, in yoga, is part of the “sun salutation” flow series. It allows you to breathe deeply and time your breath to the stretch-and-release movement. It’s the perfect addition to a series of morning stretches.

How That Helps in the Future

Your fundamental strength comes from being able to stand tall and keep your spine lengthened. This stretch helps you do just that. You’ll also be cultivating a broader awareness of the way your breath matches your movement, forming a mind-body connection in this most basic of stretches.

2. Spinal Twist

How to Do It

For this stretch, you can stay seated in a chair or sit cross-legged on the floor, as you might do during yoga stretches. Either cross your arms over your chest or put one hand behind and brace the other one against your thigh. Now slowly, from the upper body (not the neck!) start twisting your body to one side. Don’t let your hips come with you. Repeat, twisting to the other side.

Benefits for the Body

Spinal twists help maintain strength, stability, mobility, and flexibility. It also helps protect your upper and lower back, as well as releases your front thoracic muscles.

How That Helps in the Future

Spinal health is one of the most crucial aspects of physical fitness as we age. A healthy spine can help against the pains of arthritis, osteoporosis, and flexibility, making your movements more fluid and less jarring, guarding against sudden pulls or spasms, too.

3. Deep Side Stretch

How to Do It

Inhale and expand your body up and out. Now raise one arm and bend to the opposite side (if you lifted your left arm, bend to the right). As you exhale and bend, try to lengthen out your arm as far as it will go, at the same time. The point is not to compress the opposite side but, instead, to open up the rib cage and lengthen the side on which your arm is raised. For example, with a left arm lift the left side is open.

Benefits for the Body

Again, a deep side stretch helps maintain flexibility and mobility through the spine. It helps you take deeper, fuller breaths through your respiratory system and opens up the rib cage, so you’re breathing and moving more efficiently.

How That Helps in the Future

If you’re breathing more efficiently, you’ll be able to maintain your levels of fitness with less exertion of breath and less tiredness. This guards against the tendency to bunch up, hold your breath, or injure yourself from pushing too hard.

4. Shoulder Rolls

How to Do It

Stretch your arms out in front of you and then bend the elbows. Roll your shoulders back, making circles in the air with your pointed elbows. Move forward, then roll backward.

Benefits for the Body

Shoulder rolls help to open up the upper back, neck, and shoulder muscles. The rolls and bending action help keep your joints well lubricated.
How That Helps in the Future

Our joints tend to lose cartilage between them as we age, and this can often cause painful friction or aches and pains. Lubricating them with slow, steady movement keeps them supple and in use.

5. Chest Stretch

How to Do It

Keep your arms at your side, focusing on pulling the shoulder blades together until they touch, and then down the back. For an added stretch, clasp your hands at the back and pull down.

Benefits for the Body

As we go through daily life, and over time, it can become difficult to stand up straight since we’re used to hunching over. The chest stretch helps loosen the chest, shoulder, and upper back muscles to improve and maintain spinal flexibility.

How That Helps in the Future

If you’ve ever experienced sharp pains while breathing or if your breath becomes hitched through your ribs, it’s likely you’ve been maintaining a position where your upper organs are compressed more often than is healthy for you. The chest stretch helps you open the upper and front respiratory system, helping you breath deeper and fuller. You can also maintain spinal flexibility with this stretch.

6. Toe Touches/Forward Fold

How to Do It

Stand tall and take a deep breath. Next, as you exhale, bend at your hips and move your upper body down, planting your feet firmly. Stretch out your hands and fingers as far as they will go and try and reach your toes. Do not bend further from your hips than you can. When you feel a light resistance or pulling motion from your hamstrings, stop. You can also choose to bend your knees slightly for an added support to your lower back.

Benefits for the Body

Toe touches or forward folds help relax your neck muscles, lengthen your hamstrings and lubricate your lower back or sacral region.

How That Helps in the Future

Use this stretch to maintain stability, promote flexibility through the lower back region, and even help you walk taller and straighter, with more ease through your hamstrings.

7. Hamstring Stretch

How to Do It

Sitting on a chair, move towards its edge. Now, inhale and extend one leg straight out. Place the heel of the foot on the ground, keeping your toes facing up to the ceiling and flex your foot. Slowly, bend forward at the hip until you feel a comfortable resistance. Repeat on the other leg.

Benefits for the Body

Tight hamstrings can limit your walking and movement-based activities. The hamstring stretch can also help you get more length in your forward fold or toe touch.

How That Helps in the Future

You’ll be able to lengthen out your hamstrings, making walking more stable and be more efficient in your overall stretching routine.

8. Neck Circles

How to Do It

You can do this senior stretching routine either seated or standing. Turn your head to look over one shoulder, then drop the chin forward, head facing down. Next, roll your head to the next shoulder, then roll it, so your chin points up. Keep going a few times in one direction and then switch.

Benefits for the Body

The neck is a small but powerful region in our body. Because it has so many small muscles, the neck can be easily strained. Something as simple as sleeping funny can cause a painful and irritating “crick” in your neck. This helps release neck spasms.

How That Helps in the Future

Neck health is directly related to shoulder and spinal mobility, so use this exercise to keep your muscles lubricated and in active use.

9. Back Stretch

How to do it

Stand tall and then place your hands on your hips. Gently begin to arc your back, looking up at the ceiling as you go, and shift your hands to support your lower back as you bend. Hold for about three seconds and repeat five to seven times.

Benefits for the Body

The name of this exercise is a misnomer because you’re not stretching your back as much as you are compressing it. However, it provides an excellent release through the hips and the lower sacral region.

How That Helps in the Future

Doing these stretches for senior citizens will help improve the mobility through the vertebrae of your spine, and can also help reverse rounded shoulders. The slightly dynamic motion will help get your blood flowing a tad faster, improving heart health.

10. Seated Hip Stretch

How to Do It

Find a chair and sit tall. Lift your right leg from the ground then cross the leg so that your right ankle is resting directly above your left knee. Flex your foot to protect the right knee and keep it firmly flexed. Pull back a bit and begin to relax your right hip. You can do this by gently using your palm to softly push against the knee of the crossed leg (in this case, the right). Gravity will do its thing so only do this if you want a deep stretch. Hold down for 20 to 30 seconds and switch legs.

Benefits for the Body

We take our hips for granted, and we think we need to get into all sorts of pretzel shapes to stretch the hips. However, this simple seated stretch proves that you can lubricate a vital region of your body, connected to mobility, lower body strength, and even core strength.

How That Helps in the Future

Use this stretching exercise to lubricate the hip joint, improving range of motion, flexibility and walking movements. Your hips are also connected to the strength of your knees. Strengthen your knee joints by stretching the hip joints.

Some Final Stretching Advice

Remember that breathing is half the battle. You never want to hold your breath when stretching. You need a good supply of oxygen to be moving through the body to give them power. Holding your breath weakens your muscles.

If you can, try a small and simple warm-up before stretching, such as walking. This will help bring some heat to your muscles.

While it’s important that you engage your mind, you want to take your time getting into a stretch. Don’t jerk into it and, once you’re there, don’t bounce. If you feel pain, stop immediately — it may mean you’ve hit your limit for today. Yoga stretches are not intended to be painful.

Major surgery warrants you speaking to your doctor before starting any kinds of stretching exercises. If you start too soon, it might be counterintuitive and slow down your healing so make sure to check first.

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