As we get older, we may start to feel aches and pains in our joints and muscles that are bound to stop us from exercising as vigorously as we once did. However, it’s important to keep up some form of movement or exercise to keep our blood flowing and retain some of our flexibility.
Luckily, exercise isn’t just for the young – there are plenty of different kinds of light exercise that more mature groups can work into their week in order to stay fit! Of course, it’s best to avoid more intense workouts such as extensive cardio workouts, high-intensity interval training, climbing and heavy weight-lifting as these can put an unnecessary strain on your body. However, it’s recommended that seniors still regularly work lighter exercise into their lives, such as swimming, chair yoga and regularly going for brisk walks.
Whatever exercise you choose to do, it is still just as important to stretch and warm-up as it would be when doing a heavier workout. Not all traditional stretches and warm-ups are suitable for the older body, though.
Here are ten of the best stretches – some sitting, some standing – that seniors can work into their daily routine to stay fit, healthy, and flexible in your later years.
1. Sitting Chest Stretch
This exercise is ideal for working the pectoral muscles. Start upright with your back straight but away from the back of the chair, with your feet flat on the ground. Pull your shoulders back and down and extend both arms out to your side.
Gently push your chest forwards whilst keeping your arms in place until you feel a stretch. Hold this position for five to ten seconds, release, and repeat a further five times.
- Improves posture
- Works pectoral muscles
2. Calf Stretch
This exercise is a good way to work the muscles in your calves and knees, as traditional exercises for this area – such as lunges – could prove a little too strenuous. Start in a standing position near a wall. Place your hands on the wall, then put one leg out behind you, outstretched straight. Bring the other knee forward, bent.
Keep your hips and feet pointing straight at the wall with both heels down, then lean into the wall until you feel a stretch in your lower back leg and hip. Once you do, hold this position for 30 seconds, then release, switch sides, and repeat.
- Works calf muscles
- Works hip muscles
3. Upper Body Stretch
This is similar to a chest stretch but works the muscles down the lower sides of your torso, rather than the muscles in the pectoral area. Begin in a chair, with your back straight and your feet flat on the floor. Cross both arms over your chest, with a hand resting on each shoulder. Without moving your hips or feet at all, turn your upper body to one side as much as you comfortably can. When you feel a stretch, hold the position for five seconds, then twist to repeat on the other side. Repeat this process five times on each side.
- Helps maintain upper back flexibility
- Improves posture
- Works obliques
4. Alternating Arm Reaches
This stretch can be done both sitting and standing, depending on whichever is most comfortable, so pick whichever way feels the most comfortable for you. Stand tall or sit upright with your feet flat on the ground, with your chin tucked in very slightly. With straight elbows, reach up with one arm, ideally bringing it back as far as your ears.
Reach up as high as you comfortably can until you feel a stretch in your chest and upper back. Hold this position for between five and ten seconds, then bring your arm down slowly and repeat on the other side. Do this process five times on each side.
- Works pectoral muscles
- Stretches upper back
- Improves posture
5. Hip Marches
Start by sitting in a chair, with your back upright and your feet flat on the floor. Holding onto the side of the chair and with your knee still bent and soles of the feet facing towards the floor, slowly raise one leg as high as you comfortably can, hold for three seconds, then slowly place it back down again. Repeat this process on both legs, five times each.
- Strengthens hips
- Strengthens thighs
- Improves flexibility
6. Ankle Stretches
Start by sitting upright in a chair, with your feet flat on the floor. Hold onto the sides of the chair and slowly raise one leg off the ground, outstretched, in line with your opposite knee if you comfortably can. With your leg raised and straight, point your toes away from you, then back upright, then away from you, then back upright.
Then point your toes out in front of you and rotate your foot clockwise three times, then anti-clockwise three times. Slowly lower your leg and switch sides. Repeat three to five times with each leg.
- Improves ankle flexibility
- Stretches calves
- Lowers blood clot risk
7. Neck Stretches
This exercise is especially ideal for anyone who spends a lot of time sat at a computer, as extended time sat at a desk can start taking a toll on the joints and muscles in our neck. Sitting upright, cross one arm over to the opposite shoulder, and hold the shoulder down.
Slowly tilt your head away from your hand until you feel a stretch down the side of your neck. Hold the stretch for five seconds, then tilt back towards your hand. Repeat this twice more on this side, then switch sides and repeat the process three times.
- Loosens tight neck muscles
- Relieves tight shoulders
- Lightly tones jawline area
8. Neck Rotations
This one is simple, yet surprisingly effective. Sit upright in your chair, with your back upright and your shoulders dropped. Hold your head up high, looking straight ahead. Keeping your shoulders lowered, turn your head 90° to one side – or slightly further if you comfortably can.
You should feel a slight stretch through your neck and collarbone. Hold this for five seconds, return to face straight ahead. Do the same again, but turning your head to the other side. Repeat the process three times. To finish, relax the neck and make circles with your head, three times clockwise and three times anti-clockwise.
- Improves neck mobility
- Improves posture
- Relieves tension at the front of the shoulders
9.Cross-Body Shoulder Stretch
This can be done both by sitting upright with your feet flat on the floor in front of you or standing upright with your feet hip-width apart. Take one arm and raise it straight, at shoulder height, then bring your arm towards your chest. Use your other arm to keep this in place for ten seconds – you should feel a comfortable stretch in the shoulder of the raised arm.
Switch and arms and repeat the same process, doing this a total of three times with each shoulder. This is an exercise usually used in the warm-ups and cool-downs of more intense workouts but is still gentle enough to be included as part of a daily stretching routine throughout your later years.
- Stretches shoulders
- Releases tension in the shoulders
10. Wrist Stretches
Sit or stand with one arm outstretched, palm side up, in front of you. With the other arm, pull your outstretched hand down at the fingers until you feel a stretch in your forearm, then hold for five seconds. Turn your outstretched arm over so your palms face down, then use your free hand to push your hand up towards you until you feel a stretch, then hold for another five seconds.
Make a fist with the hand on your outstretched arm and move it round in a circle three times clockwise, then three times anti-clockwise. Switch arms and repeat the process.
- Improves mobility in wrists
- Relieves joint tension in wrists
- Stretches forearms
Things To Note
These are all stretches that are not generally too demanding and can be done every day – but only if it’s comfortable for you.
If you find after doing these exercises that you start to develop pain in any of the areas you are stretching and exercising, reduce the amount of time that you hold stretches for, the number of times you repeat them during your routine or perhaps reduce the days of the week that you do them all together.
If you suffer from arthritis, then stretching can be very beneficial, but only if it does not worsen any pain you might have been dealing with beforehand. If your arthritis is particularly severe, then be sure to consult your doctor before beginning any new form of exercise, no matter how light, as they may advise against certain movements – everyone is different, so you shouldn’t do anything to put unnecessary strain on any part of your body.