For a lot of older adults, maintaining mobility can be difficult. Muscles and joints weaken and range of movement deteriorates as we age. Stretching benefits include development and maintenance of strength, improving flexibility, and increased circulation and blood flow, to provide a greater quality of life and healthy aging.
Stretching your body to become more supple and flexible offers many physical benefits. Such training allows for easier and deeper movements while building strength and stability. Stretching your muscles and joints also leads to greater range of motion, improved balance, and increased flexibility.
Improved flexibility produces a wide range of physical benefits and can have a positive effect on your overall well-being. Here are a few ways that increased flexibility is likely to help you.
Benefits of Stretching for Older Adults
Stretching reduces low back pain and arthritis
Osteoarthritis affects 33.6% (12.4 million) of adult
The causes of lower back pain in older adults is commonly a result of osteoarthritis and spinal stenosis.
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis and is caused by the gradual degeneration of cartilage between the facet joints. Typically the resulting pain in the low back comes and goes but over time osteoarthritis may eventually cause sciatica. Along with Osteoarthritis of the low back, arthritis typically develops in the hips, knees, neck, fingers, and toes.
Spinal stenosis is the narrowing of the bone channel occupied by the spinal nerves or cord. The spinal nerves become compressed and can create symptoms of sciatica – tingling, weakness, numbness in the low back, buttocks, and legs.
While both osteoarthritis and spinal stenosis are a natural part of aging and can’t directly be avoided, the resulting pain can be managed by stretching exercises. Regular stretching benefits seniors by improving flexibility, range of motion, and elasticity to relieve stiffness in the afflicted joints. Understandably it may be difficult and painful to stretch of move these joints. To help reduce the pain, it is recommended to warm up stiff muscles prior to stretching with a heat pack and conversely cool down muscles with an ice pack following exercise to minimize swelling in the joints. You may also want to consider assisted stretching by using stretching equipment or with the aid of another individual.
Stretching reduces the risk of falling
The risk of falling is a major concern for older adults – ages 65 and older. Each year one out of three older adults will fall, with 2.5 million individuals needing treatment in emergency facilities annually. Research as show that regular bouts of stretching are critical to balance and stability helping prevent against falls. Improving flexibility in the hamstrings, quadriceps, and the lower back along with greater mobility in the hip joint is important in the prevention of falling in older adults.
Stretching helps improve poor posture
As we age, our body’s water content in connective tissue, such as ligaments and tendons, decreases, resulting in reduced elasticity and flexibility. The tightening of ligaments and tendons in the chest and shoulders in conjunction with years of sitting hunched over at a desk will overtime result in poor posture. – Poor posture is defined by a forward head posture, rounded shoulders and upper back, and forward pressing hips. – The natural S-curvature in our spine compresses. This can create pain in the lower back and between the shoulder blades. Improving flexibility is simple with a consistent stretching regimen. This will help loosen tight ligaments, tendons, and muscles to give you a greater range of motion. Additionally, supplementing in senior strength training exercises along with a stretching routine will help balance out weaker muscles helping correct poor posture with the benefits of flexibility.
Stretching increases blood flow and energy levels
Dynamic stretching is a low-intensity form of stretching that utilizes movement to stretch your muscles. As opposed to static stretching, which is stretching while your body is devoid of motion. Along with lengthening your muscles, dynamic stretches will also increase circulation and nutrient flow throughout the body. Thus increasing the body’s energy levels. In older adults, increased energy is important in maintaining independence, remaining social, and overall healthy aging.
Once you develop strength and flexibility in your body you’ll be able to withstand more physical stress. Plus, you’ll rid your body of any muscle imbalances, which will reduce your chance of getting injured during physical activity. Correcting muscle imbalances requires a combination of strengthening the underactive muscles and stretching the overactive (tight) ones.
Your body is likely to feel better overall once you work on lengthening and opening your muscles. When your muscles are looser and less tense, you’ll experience fewer aches and pains. Plus, you may be less likely to experience muscle cramps.
Improved posture and balance
When you focus on increasing muscular flexibility your posture is likely to improve. Working out your body allows you to have proper alignment and correct any imbalances. Plus, with an increased range of motion you may find it easier to sit or stand in certain ways. Yoga has been shown to improve balance.
A positive state of mind
Regularly engaging in poses that stretch and open up your body can bring about feelings of relaxation. The physical benefits can extend to a relaxed state of mind. You may find it easier to unwind once your body feels better.
It’s important to increase strength as you become more flexible. This ensures your muscles will have the right amount of tension so that they’re strong enough to support you and your movements, allowing you to become more physically fit.
You do not need any special equipment to begin improving your flexibility. Exercises can be done anywhere. Youtube videos or Apps are a great way to get started on a program.
Apps to help improve flexibility
Flexibility Training & Stretching Exercise at Home
Flexibility Training is a simple and free Android app developed by Fitify that has 65 different stretching exercises for improving flexibility. The app comprises both yoga and passive stretching exercises. You can choose from four stretching sessions: full body, upper body, lower body, and back stretching.
Before each session, you can select the duration and preview exercises. If you find a particular exercise difficult, you can always skip to the next one or substitute it for another.
Apart from a comprehensive list of stretches, the app also has a daily notification feature and Google Fit integration. However, you'll need the premium version to unlock custom workout options.
Stretch Exercise – Flexibility
The Stretch Exercise app by Leap Fitness Group is a comprehensive flexibility app. Apart from basic full-body stretches, it has ailment-specific training sessions. Under the Training Plans section, there are plenty of options, such as splits training, neck and shoulder pain relief, knee pain relief, and more. However, you can only access these specific plans with a premium subscription or by watching ads.
The Discover tab has more interesting sessions, such as posture correction, yoga for weight loss, and fat-burning sessions. However, if you're trying to lose weight, it's better to use other HIIT apps that focus on high-intensity workouts. The Stretch Exercise app can primarily help you relieve stress and improve mobility.
The app's simple animations and voice-guided sessions make following the stretching exercises easier. You can also create custom stretching plans by manually picking exercises from the list. Additionally, you can track your calories burnt, weight changes, and body mass index (BMI). The app has Google Fit integration, so you can integrate its data with your smartphone sensors and fitness trackers.
A noticeable disadvantage of this app is the number of ads. The start and end of every session are interrupted by video ads that you can skip after a few seconds. If you don’t mind ad interruptions, this app has a lot to offer for free.
Yoga studio’s library of more than 100 ready- made yoga videos and meditations is a great way to get started on flexibility programs. You can search for classes based on duration, ability, focus, and intensity. Our build your own class form a library of 280 poses.
You can also download videos and view without internet access.
This fitness app is designed for seniors. SilverSneakers GO offers 4- 12 week strength, walking and flexibility programs tailored to your fitness level.