We know about the physical problems that the elderly faces. But why wait for them to come instead of doing something to prevent them. Stretching for older adults is one of the overlooked activities among seniors that can do wonders for health.
That’s why we bring you this well-detailed article where we lay down importance and the benefits of stretching.
When we are reaching a certain age, our body begins to change. The natural process of spoilage is set in motion. And this doesn’t have to be a tragedy. It is part of the cycle of life. The important thing is that you are prepared.
Prepared for what?
So your body is not so affected when we enter into the third age. And we can do it by working out. But first it is very necessary that you know how to stretch your muscles and joints.
That is why we have written this article where we will explain the importance of stretching and the benefits that the body obtains.
Muscle stretching for older adults
So, to recap, as you grow old, your body will undergo many changes. Your hair will turn gray or white, your skin will wrinkle, and your body will stiffen as you suffer from joint, muscle, and bone problems.
Of course. Growing old doesn’t mean that you will lose all flexibility. For many years, people had accepted that joint stiffness and muscle tension were a natural part of aging, but new research suggests otherwise.
Researches has now found that at least half of the changes aging people experience in their joints, muscles, and bones are the direct result of a lack of activity.
So, when less than 10 percent of people over 50 years of age do not get enough exercise to maintain their health, it’s not a surprise many people have accepted these problems as normal.
Bone and muscle problems in older people
The most common bone and muscle problems the aging body can experience include:
- Osteoarthritis: It is when the cartilage of the joints begins to break down.
- Osteomalacia: It is the softening of the bones.
- Osteoporosis: Produces brittle bones when bones lose their mass.
- Rheumatoid arthritis: It is an inflammation in the joints and general muscle weakness and pain.
There are some changes our muscles go through as well that lead to the aforementioned problems. We have fewer muscle fibers and they get smaller.
Also, changes in the nervous system lead to decreased muscle tone and a decreased ability to contract muscles. Lost muscle tissue regenerates more slowly than before, and the tissue that replaces it is often tough and fibrous.
Degenerative bone changes
We often don’t think of bones as living tissue, but they are, and they also undergo changes as we age. Our bones begin to lose more calcium and other important minerals due to the hormonal changes that occur as we age.
Women are especially vulnerable after menopause, but men are also affected by bone loss that occurs with age.
The movement of our joints is the result of the movement of the ligaments – the flow of synovial fluid – that surrounds the joints and the layers of cartilage that prevent bones from coming into direct contact with each other.
However, in the aging body, the ligaments can become shorter and less flexible, there is less synovial fluid to lubricate the joints, and the cartilage becomes thinner. All of this leads to stiffness of the joints.
What can you do to improve your condition?
A surprising number of these age-related conditions can be reversed or prevented with regular exercise and stretching.
This article specifically focuses on how to use stretching as a way to maintain flexibility and mobility no matter how old you are. The truth is, it’s never too late to start doing something good for your body like stretching and exercising.
In the end, you will have all the tools you need to keep your body in the best possible shape so that you can enjoy your golden years.
Stretching of muscles and joints
The main goal of stretching the aging body is to prevent muscles and joints from stiffening because of disuse. By regularly stretching your muscles and flexing your joints you can help prevent many of the age-related conditions that affect the joints, muscles, and bones of an aging body.
In this part of the article, we will go over the main muscle groups and joints that are most important to staying agile.
What are the main muscle groups?
There are 11 major muscle groups that you should make sure to use regularly and keep them stretched. If you are also doing strength training exercises, these are the same muscle groups that you will be working out with.
The lower arm has several muscles that are particularly important for lifting and holding objects.
A large muscle found in each of the arms, the biceps help the forearms lift objects.
These are the other 2 muscles found in the upper arms. They help your body extend and bend your elbow.
There are a number of muscles in the front, back, and sides that make up the shoulders and are responsible for the movement of the arms.
Often referred to as traps, these are the muscles in your upper back that help move your neck, head, and shoulder blade.
This group of muscles that covers the rib cage is responsible for assisting with arm movement and breathing.
This important group of muscles located in the abdomen helps with breathing and supports the spine. They are often referred to as abs or core muscles.
One of the largest muscle groups, the back muscles help support the spine and are part of the movement of the hip.
These are the four muscles found in the front of the thigh and are a vital part of leg movement as they help control hip and knee movements.
The group of muscles that makes up the back of the thigh and also helps with movement of the hip and knee.
The muscles in your lower leg help you move your knee and flex your ankle.
Main joints of our body
Although you have several smaller joints in your fingers and toes, there are 7 major joints in the rest of your body that we are going to cover.
Each joint is made up of a combination of muscles that provide movement, ligaments, and tendons that connect bones, muscles, and bones.
- Spine: The spine helps support the upper body and houses nerves that go to all systems in the body. It is made up of several individual vertebrae.
- Shoulder: Mainly responsible for the movements of the whole arm.
- Elbow: in the middle of your arm, helps to lift.
- Wrist: Composed of several parts, the wrist is an important part of the movement of the hand.
- Hip: another ball joint, responsible for the movements of the entire leg.
- Knee: This leg joint helps you walk.
- Ankle: Another joint that has many parts, the ankle stabilizes the legs and aids in walking.
Now, we’ll dive deeper into the science of why stretching these muscle groups can help with the aging of the body.
What are the benefits of stretching?
As we discussed before, there are a number of problems with our joints, muscles, and bones that we face as our bodies age. Fortunately, there is something we can do about it and that is stretching.
Stretching in conjunction with other physical activities can help prevent or even reverse many of the problems we discussed earlier.
Muscles and stretching
When you don’t use your muscles enough, they can become stiff, causing painful movements. By stretching regularly, you can prevent your muscles from stiffening and improve their elasticity. The more elastic your muscles are, the less pain you will experience as you go about your day, and the more you can get done.
Another benefit of regularly stretching aging muscles is that it will improve your balance. This is because when your muscles are stretched regularly, they can respond better to movements which helps you stay balanced.
This will not only give you more confidence when doing other exercises, but it will help prevent falls that are especially dangerous for the aging body.
Bones and stretching
While stretching by itself does not help strengthen your bones, a number of exercises – including walking – do before each stretching session to warm up your muscles.
If you have specific concerns about bone loss, you will want to make sure that you are doing some simple exercises that can build bone mass in addition to stretching exercises.
Moreover, stretching regularly will increase joint range of motion and improve muscle flexibility, helping you perform the exercises.
As your muscles move and become stronger during exercise, your bones will regain the bone density they lost as you aged.
Joints and stretches
Stretching can help joints become more flexible, which is important for aging bodies, as joints tend to stiffen with age and lose flexibility.
With greater flexibility, you have a better range of motion. This can help eliminate previously painful movements, including various types of exercise alongside daily activities.
Another benefit that stretching provides in the joints is stretching the tendons. Tendons connect muscles to bones, and can stiffen and shorten over time if not used. The best way to loosen and lengthen the tendons so that the joints can move well again is to stretch them regularly.
The other part of the joints are the ligaments that hold the bones together. They are supposed to be strong and inflexible because they provide stability in the joint.
However, with age, they can become too stiff, so stretching them will help them get back to where they are supposed to be, rather than restricting their movements, stabilizing their joints and allowing them to move freely.
Other health benefits of stretching
Stretching has many other health benefits, such as:
- Helping you relax.
- Improving your posture
- Increasing stamina and energy levels.
- Promoting blood circulation.
- Lowering cholesterol.
Before starting a stretching program, it is important that you do some things first. Although it may seem like a simple thing to start stretching regularly, if you are not properly prepared, you are at a much higher risk of an injury.
Preparation will also help you know exactly what you are getting into so that you can stick with the program you decide on.
Talk to your doctor
Talking to your doctor about your current health is the most important thing you can do before starting a stretching program. They will be able to tell you which areas to focus on and how often to stretch to safely improve your health. If you have problems with your bones or heart, they can also start medications or supplements.
Find a coach
If you are new to stretching or your doctor recommends that you work with someone to focus on specific problems, then you will need to find a coach. For general help with stretching, you may be able to attend classes or find someone at a local gym.
However, if you have physical limitations, you may need to find a physical therapist to help you out.
Select a good center
It is best to find a place where you can perform your stretching exercises in the easiest and most effective way. You can choose to do this at home, at a gym, or at your local community center.
Since some sections require some additional equipment, you will need to make sure you have access to these anywhere. Many community centers have small workout spaces that are perfect for exercising and are generally much more affordable than gyms.
Get the right clothes
Wearing the right clothes can help you stretch a lot easier, but it doesn’t have to be fancy or too expensive, so don’t worry. You simply want to wear clothing that does not restrict your movements in any way. It can be tight clothing like spandex or yoga pants, but it can also be baggy sweatpants if that’s more your style.
You can do a lot of stretches without equipment, but having some basic equipment will make some stretches easier and safer for your aging body. Elastic bands or resistance bands are great for making many stretches more intense.
An inclined board provides you with an angled surface for various leg stretches, and a yoga mat is the best option to cushion your body when doing any stretch from the floor.
There are also several different machines specifically designed for stretching. These are a great way to start because they force you to stretch correctly, which helps prevent injury and improve the effectiveness of the stretch.
Unfortunately, these are generally quite expensive, so find a gym that has them.
Once you have everything ready, the only thing left to do is keep reading to learn more about stretching and start stretching every day.
Types of physical stretching
In this part we will discuss the different types of stretches for the elderly that are performed and what type of stretch will be best for you and your aging body. We will also talk about why timed stretches are important and discuss how much time you should spend on each stretch.
If you’ve ever seen someone bounce while stretching, this is a ballistic stretch. The idea is that you use the momentum of your movement to push a joint beyond its normal range of motion.
This is a type that you should avoid at all costs as it can often cause your muscles to strain or injure.
Often used in yoga, this involves placing your limb in position without the aid of props or other limbs and allowing only the muscles of that limb to hold the stretch. This can be extremely difficult so it is rarely held for more than 10 seconds at a time, but it is also great for building muscle.
Like active stretching, passive stretching makes you take and maintain a position. However, these stretches are maintained for a much longer period of time (1 minute or more) because they use props that allow the stretch to be maintained. They are excellent for injuries, as they do not exercise the muscles with great force.
This type of stretching involves using your own strength to push past the passive stretch. You take a position and then push against the prop (or your trainer in some cases) to create a deeper stretch in those muscles, which is a great way to engage more muscle fibers than passive stretching alone.
This is another type of stretch that involves movement, but it is safe and beneficial. With dynamic stretching, you perform specific arm and leg sets that allow movements for your joints to gently and naturally extend beyond their previous limits, exercising them and flexing your muscles at the same time.
PNF stands for proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation, and it uses a combination of passive and isometric stretching to provide even better results than one technique alone. Due to the combination of stretches, this is the fastest way to improve flexibility through stretching.
How long should the stretch last?
As we mentioned earlier, different stretches for the elderly are done for different periods of time. This is sometimes related to the difficulty of stretching as with active and dynamic stretching, but the effectiveness of the stretching is also a factor.
Although an active stretching may take only 10 seconds to be effective, doing a passive stretching for the same amount of time would not produce any results.
Since most passive and isometric stretches require at least a minute for each of your major muscles, you will need to make sure you have plenty of time for each stretching session.
Allowing your muscles to stretch for at least a minute each gives you a chance to gradually stretch and hold that position long enough to impact that muscle for more than a couple of minutes after your session.
Well, we hope you’ve appreciate how important stretching is for the elderly. They are just as important as stretching and workout programs for young people. It’s actually an indispensable part of fitness in general. And remember that one of the responsibilities of the elderly is to live it in the most dignified possible way.
Frequently asked questions
Definitely. Stretching and exercise can help us to recover and maintain a good percentage of flexibility and stability during our golden years.
The main reason of flexibility loss as you grow older is the lack of physical activity. It is true that our joints progressively get stiffened in time, but living a sedentary life, specially as older adults, further deteriorates our joints.
No. On the contrary, it’s beneficial to maintain flexibility and for your general health. However, you should see a doctor before venturing into a program or at least consult with a certified personal trainer (coach), specially if you have a certain health condition or have spent long time with no physical activity of any sort.
Sure, it’s never too late to get those muscles strong and joints flexible again. When you stretch, the joints and muscles that have been dormant activate again. Of course, we recommend that you see a doctor to greenlight any stretching or workout program.
David is a writer and graduate professor. He writes for different websites. With 7+ years of experience in writing and education, David has combined his expertise in teaching with his passion for physical and mental wellness. He researches and writes to bring you valuable information about weight loss, nutrition, fitness, community, society and more.