Runners, tennis players and other fitness enthusiasts know the importance of stretching, but stretching really is for every body.
Even if you shun exercise, stretching should be as routine as brushing your teeth.
Benefits of Stretching
“Stretching increases flexibility, helps you avoid injury and improves balance,” explains Danna Mitchell, fitness specialist at Kendal at Oberlin.
Stretching aids both flexibility and balance, which can be challenging for older adults. Incorporating some simple stretches into your daily schedule can improve both abilities.
According to National Institutes of Health, good flexibility makes it easier to:
- look over your shoulder to see what's behind you as you back the car
- make the bed
- bend over to tie your shoes
- reach for a food item on a kitchen shelf
- pull a sweater over your head
- swing a golf club.
By improving balance, stretching prevents falls and makes it easier for you to walk on steps and uneven sidewalks.
A good place to start is first thing in the morning. “You just don’t want to jump out of bed,” Danna says.
Many of us awake with some stiffness in our joints, and for those with arthritis, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis and other illnesses, the rigidity can be severe.
Danna recommends some simple wrist, ankle and shoulder rolls while in bed.
Although strength, toning, and breath work are all aspects of yoga, one of the most beneficial elements is stretching.
Randi Ragan, a yoga teacher and author of A Year of Living Mindfully: Seasonal Practices to Nourish Body, Mind and Spirit, has compiled a list of six bed stretches, including the Bed-to-Floor Stretch:
“Swing your feet over the side of the bed so that they touch the floor. Keeping your knees bent, hang your head and arms down to the floor, rounding your back over your knees. Let your head and arms dangle to the floor; hold for 5 breaths. ‘This helps stretch the back and helps you wake up thanks to a fresh supply of oxygen to the brain,’" says Ragan.
Stretching During the Day
Many fitness experts recommend that you first warm up your muscles before engaging in more strenuous stretching.
“You may hurt yourself if you stretch cold muscles. So before stretching, warm up with light walking, jogging or biking at low intensity for five to 10 minutes. Or better yet, stretch after you exercise when your muscles are warmed up,” according to the Mayo Clinic.
Before beginning yoga and other classes, Danna has residents march in place, do squats, and other light movements before stretching.
Stretches include standing up and down on toes, shoulder and neck rolls, and hanging forward like rag doll.
Danna helps residents find their proper alignment, and uses a variety of props, including chairs, blocks, straps, blankets and pillows.
“You need to be comfortable with your body, know your limitations and work from there,” she says.
Stiff necks have become increasingly common, the result of gazing at a computer screen and smartphones and lengthy drive times.
Dr. Andrew Bang, with Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Integrative Medicine, suggests these neck stretches, which can be done in a car or chair:
- Roll your shoulders backwards and down 10 times
- Squeeze your shoulder blades together 10 times
- Push your head backwards into your car headrest or hands and hold for 30 seconds
- Bring your ear to your shoulder 10 times on each side.
Need Stretch Support?
If you are concerned about vertigo, falling, balance and other symptoms, you may want to visit a physical therapist for an assessment. Or if you just need guidance getting started, talk to a personal trainer at your local health club.
Props and supports are inexpensive and for sale at sporting good stores and on the Internet.
Molly Kavanaugh frequently wrote about Kendal at Oberlin for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, where she was a reporter for 16 years.