For some, stretching is just a warmup or cooldown ritual for exercise. However, some experts indicate that stretching can help you maintain strength, improve flexibility, and increase circulation and blood flow. Without equipment or overly strenuous activity, the simple act of stretching every day can enable an active, independent lifestyle as we age.
“The senior population is growing; people are living longer and are more active,” says Denise Boyle, a certified personal trainer at Hockessin Athletic Club. “Stretching is so important. Even if you don’t do other activities, you need to stretch to keep the blood flowing and [reduce] soreness. It also helps to prevent injuries.”
During her 15 years in the fitness industry, Boyle has worked with clients of all ages and abilities. In 2019, she received her Senior Fitness Specialist Certification from the American Council on Exercise. She encourages all her clients to set personal goals for themselves, which could range from participating in the National Senior Olympic Games to lifting up grandchildren.
“One of my seniors participates in the Senior Olympics every year,” Boyle says. “Then there are some of my seniors who play golf, while others play pickleball, and some just want to keep moving and stay healthy.”
Because there are so many types of stretches, including static and passive, Boyle says you should build your stretching routine around your goals and, most importantly, listen to your body. “Go by the way you feel,” she says. “If something doesn’t feel right, [stop] and try something else. You can find another movement or position that stretches that same muscle that is comfortable for you.”
Before starting any physical program, Boyle encourages everyone to consult with their physician. Then, try these everyday stretches at home.
Chest stretch: Start in a standing position with arms straight in front of your body and palms up. Bring arms out to the side while opening up the chest muscles and squeezing your shoulder blades together, which you’ll feel in your upper back. As an option, add the dynamic movement of pressing your arms back behind you at a 45-degree angle. “This is posture-based and is great for people who may be at a computer all day, or reading a book or sitting for long periods of time.”
Upper-trapezius stretch: Drop your arms down by your side and then shrug, retracting and squeezing your shoulder blades together. Drop them down again and repeat. “This relieves tension in the neck and upper back by bringing your shoulders up toward your ears, squeezing your shoulder blades together, then dropping them back down. That’s all it is.”
Runner’s stretch: This stretch is good for your calf muscles. Place your hands on a wall or something sturdy. Extend one leg behind you while keeping both feet flat on the floor, with your rear leg straight. Lean forward until you feel tension in your calf muscle in the back leg, then repeat with the other leg. “Along with other muscles in your legs, calves can help you with everyday movement, like walking and turning.”
Lateral lunge: Stand with your feet together. Step out to the side with the right foot and with your right leg bent slightly; your left leg should be straight. You should feel a stretch in the left leg while strengthening the right thigh muscle. Repeat with the left foot. “This also helps with balance. For a more dynamic movement, add arms out in front of your body and rotate to one side while in that lunge position.”