Most workout routines focus on cardio exercises — getting your heart rate up — and strength training, which develops your muscles. However, stretching is just as important, especially for seniors, who routinely suffer from loss of joint flexibility as they age.
As we age, our muscles normally become shorter and lose their elasticity. Bone structure can also be affected, causing decreased range of motion in the shoulders, spine, and hips. These changes can sometimes be painful. It becomes important for seniors to maintain the range of motion of their bodies, and to continue moving joints normally.
Stretching is an excellent way to relieve stress and tension in the joints, and can be combined with breathing exercises and good posture, so that we can continue to use our bodies normally long into our retirement years.
There are two general approaches to stretching exercises:
· static stretching- Static stretching aims to achieve permanent lengthening of muscles and surrounding tissues, increasing range of motion. In static stretching, one reaches and holds an extended position for a period of time — 10 to 30 seconds — before relaxing again. Because this is low impact, it is generally considered safer for seniors, particularly if you’re just starting out
· dynamic stretching- Dynamic, or oscillatory motions, on the other hand, aim to increase the range of available motion in a joint. Using this approach, one gently propels one’s muscles toward a maximum range of motion; continue to move your muscles into the stretch, taking care not to bounce or jerk into a stretch or to overextend. For example, to stretch a hamstring (the back of your thigh) from a standing position, gently kick your straight leg forward repeatedly, doing light kicks with minimal acceleration but kicking a little higher each time.
The best way to develop a beneficial stretching routine is to join a gym and work with a trainer. If your muscles and joints are tight and restricted and you haven’t stretched or worked out in a while, it’s easy to hurt yourself; a trainer can recommend stretches and then show you how to do them safely. If you have any preconditions such as arthritis, it’s worthwhile consulting with a physician as well before undertaking any kind of workout regime, including stretching.
Most seniors should stretch two or three times each week, performing each static stretch three to five times, with hold times of 20 to 30 seconds. Try to do one or two different stretches for each muscle group or joint. If you want to increase flexibility, you can stretch four or five times a week.
Never bounce into a stretch; static stretches should ease into a hold position, and dynamic stretches should use steady, gentle motions. Never hold your breath during stretching; try to pattern your breathing so that you exhale as your stretch your muscle. You should stretch to the point where you feel mild discomfort, but do not approach feeling pain; if you do feel pain, stop immediately. When working on your back, don’t combine stretches such that you turn and bend your back simultaneously.
The best way to learn specific stretches is to work with a trainer. The Internet offers an abundance of videos that show you how to do specific stretches, but be sure that any Internet videos you learn from are from reliable websites. If you’re not sure, consult with a trainer. For your upper body, you should concentrate on your shoulders, upper back, and neck. If you suffer from arthritis or other problems with your elbows and wrists, some special stretches can help improve range of motion in these areas.
You also want to be sure to stretch your lower back as well as different muscle groups in your legs. Increased flexibility in your hamstrings and shins, and improved range of motion in your ankles and knees, will not only help improve your mobility but also make you better able to handle a fall or other accident.
Once you have your routine down, you can stretch at home just as well as at a gym. Remember to not overdo it, and to stop immediately if you feel pain. If you stick with a good program, you’ll start to feel beneficial effects in just a short time.