Today we will talk about stretching exercises for the elderly. As we get older, our ligaments, tendons and other connective tissues lose elasticity just like our skin.
Adequate elasticity of these tissues is crucial for the normal function of all our joints and back. Lack of elasticity will lead to lack in range of motion of the joint. This will in turn impair the muscles from working correctly which will lead to a dysfunctional joint that gets inflamed.
A typical example of this is a sore knee. In many cases the join is just the symptom of an underlying issue in mobility and strength of the leg muscles. If you improve the mobility and strength, the joint starts to work correctly and the pain and inflammation subsides.
Even if you don’t have significant dysfunction in any joint, lack of mobility will limit your strength significantly and make you more prone to injuries in case of sudden exertion (like lifting something heavy) and more prone to injuries in case of accidents like slipping and falling. For example, it’s much easier to pull your back or hamstring if don’t have good mobility and strength.
So how do we improve mobility and increase the elasticity of our connective tissues? With stretching of course. Stretching is just the first part of the equation, it improves mainly passive mobility. The next step is to increase active mobility, which you can achieve with full range of motion strength training.
Why is stretching important for the elderly
Like we established a moment ago, you lose elasticity in your connective tissues as you get older. You also lose muscle mass and strength due to natural hormonal and metabolic changes.
To live a healthy active life as an older adult you need to fight this loss in connective tissue elasticity and muscle to the best of your ability. It just so happens the two are very much connected. To have good active mobility, requires as certain amount of strength. And to have usable strength you definitely need good mobility.
Having issues with mobility and flexibility will lead to problems in how your joints function, how you can produce strength, how will your body react to sudden jerks and other accidents and it will even affect your balance negatively.
Mobility can be divided into passive and active mobility. Passive mobility is the mobility someone else can move your joint. Think about a physical therapist or a doctor moving your leg while you lay still. The range of motion your leg can achieve is the passive mobility. Passive mobility can also be thought as the range you can stretch your join without using muscles to pull you into the position.
Active mobility mean the mobility of a joint you can achieve with your own muscles. This is usually lower than passive mobility. Active mobility is very important for healthy function of the joints. If you have restrictive connective tissues on the other side of the joint, the muscles of that side will also be weak. This can pull the joint into slight misalignment, which will over time cause inflammation, pain and abrasion of the joint.
Typical example of this is an older person who sits a lot and doesn’t do many activities that use the full range of motion of the knee and hip joints. They will get a pain in one or both knees when walking down the stairs for example.
They will likely have very weak hamstrings and glutes from all the sitting. They can have relatively strong quads and hip flexors, but both will be tight due to all the sitting. This creates an imbalance on the knee joint that pulls the knee cap out of alignment. This is called patellofemoral syndrome and it is the most common reason for knee pain. It can be fixed with simple physical exercises that strengthen the muscles that affect the knee joint and by improving mobility.
It’s pains like these that can prevent older people from moving freely, especially longer distance. If you keep your mobility and strength good, you can avoid problems like these all together.
Mobility is also very important spinal health. As we get older our spine tends to hunch over because of the lost strength but also due to structural changes in the discs of the spine. This can lead to many problems like sciatica and chronic back pain. Having good mobility and strength in your back will help to prevent this effect of aging as well.
As you can see, having good mobility is very important for your overall health and freedom in old age. Stretching is the place to start improving your mobility before you start stretching your muscles with full range of motion strength training.
Forms of stretching
Stretching can be divided into two categories; Static and dynamic. Static stretching means that you stretch your joint gradually to an extended position. You then hold that position for several seconds and if it feels comfortable you can extend it even more. You the slowly return to neutral position.
Static stretching is best done with warm muscles after exercise but it is also great for improving sore muscles and reducing stress and tension when done before bed at night for example. Static stretching is more gentle and it’s easier to go by feel.
For the elderly static stretching is perfect for improving passive mobility and for preparing the connective tissues and muscles for strength training.
Dynamic stretching consists of several repeated movements that take the join to the limit of its range of motion while simultaneously activating the muscles of that joint.
Typical examples of dynamic stretches are jumping jacks, lunges and squats. They take your joints to the limits of the range of motion while simultaneously activating and preparing them to the upcoming exercise or work.
Dynamic stretching is actually best used as a warp up to exercise. This is because it quickly increases the joints range of motion, making you more limber. It also activates the muscles you will be using, preventing injuries and increasing force production. Dynamic stretching also improve your coordination, balance and body awareness.
For the elderly dynamic stretching should only be used in very few selected occasions when good mobility is already achieved with static stretching. This is because the loss of elasticity in the connective tissues make them more prone to injuries during sudden stretches and jerks, which dynamic stretches essentially are.
Now let’s look at some stretching exercises that are suitable for older adults. Always remember to consult your physician before starting a new stretching routine, just in case you have some health related disability that prevents you from doing these exercises safely.
Stretching exercises for the legs
The first stretches will be for the lower body. This great two routine will stretch every major muscle in your lower body and lower back.
Stretching exercises for upper body
This is a gentle stretch routine for all your upper body muscles. It includes stretches for the neck, chest, shoulders, triceps, upper back, lower back and wrists.
We hope you found these stretching exercises for the elderly useful and will incorporate them in your routine. Always remember to start slowly and if you feel any pain or discomfort, stop immediately. If you are unsure about how to perform the stretching exercises, consult a trainer who can show you how to do them properly.
Stretching is not that hard and it’s very beneficial for your health. The best thing is that it makes you feel great when you stretch your whole body! So don’t be afraid to get started with a stretching routine today.
The best way to do these stretching exercises is every night before bed while watching TV for example. This way can focus on something else while doing long stretches. Because you do them daily, the routine doesn’t have to last very long. 5 to 10 minutes goes a long way and you will see great improvements within a week!
If you have any questions about the stretches or a routine, drop a comment below and we will promise to get back to you as soon as possible.
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