Stretching on a regular basis has health benefits for almost everyone. But for older adults, stretching is about more than just staying limber. Performing even a few basic stretching exercises for seniors is a great way for an older person to improve their overall quality of life.
Flexibility decreases naturally as a person ages, but your mom or dad can help to maintain as much flexibility and range of motion as they can, for as long as they can, with the help of some basic stretching. Studies show that greater flexibility in older adults is linked to fewer dangerous falls and other bodily injuries.
The fact is that when Mom or Dad implements a few stretches into their exercise routine, they’re being proactive about their health in their older years. This means that they’re preventing injury or pain ahead of time as much as possible, ultimately lessening the need for prescription drugs or painkillers, equipment to aid with mobility, and personal care assistants. This can save your parent a lot of time, hassle, and money.
So what might a stretching routine look like for your parent and what are the physical benefits of these exercises? Let’s take a look at what stretching exercises for seniors can do for your mom or dad and how they (and even you!) can perform these valuable maneuvers.
The benefits of stretching exercises for seniors
Stretching on a regular basis has multiple benefits for older adults. When your parent includes stretches in their exercise program, they’ll likely see benefits such as:
- More flexibility in the limbs, shoulders, back, hips, and many other areas of the body
- Decreased joint pain, including pain from arthritis
- Decreased back pain, including in the lower and upper back
- Improved posture
- Increased relaxation and less muscle tension
All of these benefits make the tasks of daily living much easier, whether reaching for a coffee cup or bending over to tie shoelaces. Stretching regularly on a continual basis can slow down the loss of flexibility that a person naturally experiences as they age.
As a family caregiver, you’ll want to be well aware of these benefits so that you can share this valuable information with your mom or dad so they know how stretching exercises for seniors can improve their overall health and wellness.
Simple stretches for Mom or Dad
Before your parent gets started with any kind of stretching, it’s a good idea to warm up first. This reduces the risk of injury when Mom or Dad starts stretching.
It might be easiest for your parent to warm up simply by walking in place for five to ten minutes. This gets the blood flowing and helps prepare the muscles for physical activity. Plus, it can be done anywhere without the need for special equipment. Once the warm-up is over, your parent is ready to try a few basic stretches.
By stretching out the neck, seniors can help to loosen tension in the neck, shoulders, and upper back. Tension and pain are relatively common in these areas and can be caused by something as simple as poor posture, sleeping in the wrong position, or by not having enough cushion in the pillow at night.
To properly perform a neck stretch, follow these steps:
1. Sit in a chair with your back straight. Gently lean your head from side to side to warm up your neck muscles.
2. Lift your right arm over your head and place your palm on the left side of your head.
3. Very gently, pull your head to the right to perform the stretch. Hold for 20 seconds.
4. Repeat the process on the other side. Put your left arm over your head, place your palm on the right side of your head, and pull gently back to the left.
Shoulder and back stretch
Seniors sometimes tend to hunch over as they get older, causing poor posture and stiff muscles. Performing a shoulder and upper back stretch can help your mom or dad to avoid a stiff back and stand up straight.
This stretch will help to loosen the muscles in the shoulders and upper back and help to improve flexibility in the spinal region as well.
1. Stand tall with your arms at your sides. Reach behind you with both hands and pull your shoulders back, interlacing your fingers.
2. Gently push your clasped hands farther away from your back, arcing backward slightly. Hold that position for 10 seconds.
3. Return to a normal standing position and repeat the above steps five to ten times.
When your mom or dad stretches their triceps muscles, their flexibility and range of motion in their arms and upper back improves. This is helpful for twisting the body and grabbing objects, as well as supporting oneself while getting in or out of chairs and bed.
1. Stand up straight, or sit tall in a chair. Lift your right arm over your head and bend it at the elbow.
2. Reach your left arm up and grasp your bent elbow. Both hands are behind your head at this point. Pull your elbow gently toward the center of your back to initiate the stretch.
3. Hold this pose for 20 to 30 seconds before releasing and performing the maneuver on the opposite side.
Seated hip stretch
Having flexible, strong hips is important for helping an older adult to get up from a seated position. This makes getting in and out of bed, a chair, a car, or a bathtub much easier. Since this hip stretch is performed while seated, it’s a good way to improve hip flexibility with minimal risk of falling.
1. Sit tall in a chair with your back straight.
2. Cross your right leg over your left leg, positioning your ankle at your left knee.
3. Relax your right hip. Very gently press down on your right knee to perform the stretch.
4. Hold this pose for 20 seconds before switching to the opposite side.
Lower back and hamstring stretch
Lower back pain is relatively common in older adults, and stretching out the back is a good way to alleviate it. For your parent, performing this simple hamstring and lower back stretch can help to avoid tightness and pain in the lower back, ultimately making getting around much easier.
1. Lie face-up on the floor, a yoga mat, or the bed. Bend your right leg and move your right knee toward your chest.
2. Keeping your shoulders as flat to the floor as possible, reach your arms around your right knee and pull toward yourself.
3. Release your knee and perform the stretch on the opposite leg.
One of the simplest stretching exercises of all is the humble ankle circle. Strong ankles help your mom or dad to maintain good balance. Weak or stiff ankles, on the other hand, make stumbles and falls more likely.
Here’s how to perform ankle circles:
1. Sit up straight in a sturdy chair.
2. Extend one leg in front of you. Rotate the ankle clockwise in a circular motion, 10 to 20 rotations.
3. Return your leg to the starting position and repeat the exercise with your opposite leg and ankle.
Encourage safe stretching
If you’re encouraging your parent to try the exercises above or any other stretching exercises, keep these general rules of thumb in mind:
- Always perform stretches gently, and don’t force anything. It’s not supposed to be painful.
- Do not hold your breath while stretching. Your muscles need oxygen to perform at their best, and holding your breath while stretching can cause injury.
- Don’t bounce during stretches. This increases the likelihood of muscle tears and other injuries.
- Always warm up before stretching.
If you’re ever unsure whether a stretch is safe, check with a health care professional. Also, keep in mind that not every stretch is safe for every person. Past injuries, surgeries, and many other factors can affect your mom or dad’s ability to perform a stretch safely.
Getting started with stretching exercises for seniors
Flexibility and mobility are vital for older adults to keep doing the things they love to do. An exercise routine that includes stretching is a great idea for your mom or dad, as it can keep joints and muscles limber, lessen muscle and joint pain, and reduce the risk of dangerous falls.
These stretches aren’t complicated for most seniors, but they have many benefits. Try showing your mom or dad a few simple stretches that they can start incorporating into their exercise routine. If possible, you can even do some of these stretches along with them not only as a way to improve physical health, but also as a fun bonding activity.
Have you helped your parent get started with stretching exercises? We would love to hear more about your experience.