Maintaining flexibility is an important part of a healthy, active aging lifestyle. Bone density and muscle mass naturally decline over time, which can lead to taking shorter steps, hunching and susceptibility to fractures. Nagging hip, knee and back pain can also make simple tasks like bending or squatting to tie a shoe difficult.
The good news is, adding stretches to your regular exercise routine can help improve flexibility at any age. Here are some tips to help you get started.
Benefits of staying limber
Staying limber has lots of benefits — especially as you age. Moving smoothly enables you to more easily do things like reaching up to change a lightbulb or bending down to pull on your boots. Being flexible also helps prevent injuries, improve balance and posture, and increase range of motion.
Moving more makes a difference
Sitting more and moving less can stiffen and tighten your joints. Increasing movement in any way helps combat these issues, Starting small is best, especially if you haven’t previously followed any exercise routine. To break up long periods of inactivity, stand up, walk or move around every 30 minutes. Move your arms and legs for five minutes while sitting in a chair. Walk up and down the hall a few times or walk around the yard to get some fresh air.
Every person has different physical capabilities. As you start to become more active, work within your unique boundaries. Remember, it’s essential to consult your doctor or physical therapist before starting or adjusting any exercise routines. It’s also important to be patient with yourself, stick with it and be confident that moving around will help you become more limber and healthier.
Seek advice, start small and be gentle
Starting a stretching routine shouldn’t be complicated or feel overwhelming. Your doctor or therapist can likely give you a list of stretches to try. In today’s digital age, a plethora of online advice is also right at your fingertips. Search for items like “best hamstring stretches” or “10 simple at-home stretches” to get going.
Keep stretch times short to start. Pick a few to do for just five to 10 minutes total. You should also be gentle — stretching too hard might be painful, so just ease into it. Instead of reaching for your toes, start by going for just below your knee while sitting or standing. Breathe slowly and hold each stretch for 30 to 60 seconds. Try to do at least five repetitions of each kind, and pay attention to your body — if something hurts, don’t push it!
If mobility issues prevent you from moving and stretching certain joints on your own, using stretch bands or resistance bands is a wonderful option. The Cleveland Clinic offers some easy leg and upper body stretch band instructions here.
Static vs. dynamic stretching
There are two common types of stretching:
- Static stretching is moving your joints — such as your hip — as far as you can and holding it there for 30 to 90 seconds.
- Dynamic stretching is actively moving your joints with specific motions and multiple repetitions. This type of stretching targets specific muscle groups.
Range of motion gradually increases during dynamic stretching, such as doing shoulder circles, and is an effective way to limber up before an exercise routine. Static stretching is often used to cool down after activity.
Yoga and Pilates
Yoga and Pilates are two different activities that both involve stretching and enhance flexibility. In addition to its physical benefits, yoga also focuses on mental, emotional and spiritual well-being. Pilates incorporates low-impact exercise with light stretches to improve strength and flexibility. Both workouts are available in live class instruction — depending on your local coronavirus restrictions — or you can follow along with online videos or classes from home.
Swim, dance and Zumba
Why not have some fun while you stretch? Swimming, dancing and Zumba combine stretching with physical exercise. Since you’re weightless in water, stretching is generally easier while swimming. Doing different strokes also lengthens multiple muscle groups with low impact on your joints.
Another fun way to improve your flexibility is dancing. You can take a class, watch a video, or put on your favorite music at home and dance your heart out. A bonus: remembering and performing a sequence of dance steps is good for your mind.
Finally, Zumba combines dance and fitness routines, and there are many types of live or at-home classes to suit every age group.
These are just a few ideas to help you stay limber. Whatever activity you choose, doing regular routines to improve flexibility will lead to a healthier you.
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