Munson Health
Exercise for Older Adults: Don't Forget to Stretch!

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by Scholten A
Image for elderly stretching article Now that you have heard about all the benefits of exercise as you age, you are ready to hit the gym or the dance floor…or at least go for a daily walk. There is only one problem: your joints do not want to cooperate. Is it too late to limber up?
According to the American College of Sports Medicine, flexibility (the range of motion of a joint) decreases with age and physical inactivity. Inactivity can cause your muscles, tendons, and ligaments to get shorter over time. However, regardless of your age, you can increase your flexibility and prepare your body for activity by incorporating stretching into your daily routine. Do not forget, though, that aerobic fitness and strengthening are also important as you age. Balance-improving exercise such as tai chi may also improve well-being and reduce the risk of falling.

The Benefits of Stretching Exercises

A daily stretching routine may offer your these benefits:
  • Physical performance—Increased flexibility can make it easier and less tiring for you to do daily tasks such as lifting, bending, turning, and engaging in other repetitive movements.
  • Circulation—Stretching increases the temperature of your muscle tissue, which increases the circulation in that area. Improved circulation helps keep your tissue healthy.
  • Posture—Short, frequent stretches throughout the day can keep your muscles from getting tight. This helps you to maintain proper posture and reduce aches and pains due to tight muscles.
  • Resistance to stress-related muscle tension—By helping your muscles to relax, stretching can reduce pain associated with muscle tension.
  • Coordination and balance—Lack of flexibility can lead to loss of balance, causing falls and injuries. A regular stretching routine can help you maintain a good range of motion and prevent injuries that could lead to loss of mobility.

Stretching: How Much and How Often?

The National Institute on Aging offers these tips:
  • Mix in flexibility exercises with endurance, strength, and balance exercises to keep things interesting and fun.
  • Do each stretch 3-5 times.
  • Each stretch should be done slowly. Try to hold the stretch for 10-30 seconds before relaxing. When you repeat the stretch, try to reach further.

Safety Tips

  • Talk to your doctor before starting in a new exercise program.
  • Be cautious if you have a hip replacement. Check with your doctor before doing any kind of exercise, including stretching.
  • To avoid injury, warm up those muscles before you try to stretch them! Walking and moving your arms can help to prepare your muscles for your exercise routine.
  • While you may feel some discomfort during a stretch, you should not be in pain. If you feel that your knee joint hurts, for example, stop the stretch.
  • Stretch slowly and gently. Avoid bouncing or jerking, which can lead to injury
  • Try not to lock your joints when stretching. Instead, keep a little bend in the limb.

Stretch Those Muscles!

These exercises, from the National Institute of Aging, can help increase your flexibility when performed on a regular basis:


American College of Sports Medicine

National Institute on Aging



Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology

Health Canada



Fitness for anti-aging. American College of Sports Medicine website. Available at: Updated January 10, 2012. Accessed April 18, 2014.

Sample Exercises - Flexibility. National Institute on Aging website. Available at Updated March 25, 2014. Accessed April 18, 2014.

US Department of Health and Human Services. 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. Available at: Published October 2008. Accessed April 18, 2014.


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