The Importance of Stretching and Maintaining Flexibility For Seniors.
Health experts are quick to mention the benefits of maintaining a regular exercise regimen, especially as we age. However, we tend to gloss over the importance of stretching whether it pairs up with our exercise routine or not.
We are going to discuss benefits of stretching and the consequences of not maintaining our flexibility as we get older and how that impacts our overall health and function.
What are the Causes of Immobility in Seniors?
There are a multitude of causes for immobility in aging adults, some things that are preventable and some things that are beyond our control.
Medical conditions such as arthritis, neurological disorders, and generalized weakness brought on by other health issues can lead to decreased walking and overall movement.
Other causes of immobility include sedentary lifestyle choices, lack of exercise, lack of stretching, and poor food and liquid intake.
If muscles aren’t nurtured, then the tissue shortens and atrophies. In some cases, this effect can be reversed if caught early enough.
On the other hand, prolonged lack of movement means reduced oxygenation of muscle tissue.
Shortening muscles means decreased joint range which can lead to inflexibility throughout the body and poor posture making the body more susceptible to pain and injury.
What Are The Types of Postures or Habits Seen When Seniors Don’t Stretch?
When seniors are unable to maintain their flexibility, physical abnormalities start to surface. Common ones are postural and include a forward neck, kyphotic spine, a flexed torso and a posteriorly tilted pelvis.
Lack of stretching can also result in limitations to the limbs such as not being able to straighten all the way at the knees or not being able to lift the shoulders above the head.
Seniors who have poor posture as a result of inflexibility appear to be more careful when walking or moving about.
This makes sense because poor posture negatively impacts sitting and standing balance, and seniors with poor posture are prone to losing their balance more often than their peers with typical postural alignment.
What Are The Benefits of Seniors Stretching and Maintaining Their Flexibility?
Regular stretching provides numerous benefits to seniors, besides improving posture. If posture is upright and improved, then static (standing in place) balance and dynamic balance (walking) will often improve as a result.
Stretching increases blood circulation and oxygenation of muscles, which keeps the tissue supple and flexible. Flexible muscle tissue places less tension of ligaments and tendons and welcomes full joint range.
Full joint range and healthy muscle contractions also reduce overall joint pain and stiffness.
Simple Exercises Seniors Can Do to Improve Overall Flexibility or Posture.
Start proximal and work towards the distal. This means that, if you are going to start small, make the neck and spine the priority in your stretching routine. Then, move to the shoulders, hips, and limbs.
Enhancing spinal flexibility means better posture and less problems with balance because you improve your visual feedback by having your head upright and make the movement of your limbs more efficient because of normalizing the position of the spine.
Start with a 15-20 minute stretch routine in the morning right when you wake up. Rotate the neck in multiple directions: left, right, back and forward. Avoid too much rolling of the head.
Stretch the spine by bringing your arms over your head and to the sides. Stretch and twist the upper spine. Bend to touch your toes to stretch and decompress the lower spine (with the support of a wall or stationery object for balance).
Make stretching an appealing part of your day by taking up a fun exercise that can be completed in the comforts of your own home. Examples include yoga, tai-chi, pilates, etc. Modify the activities as needed based on your needs, medical history, and physical capabilities.
Why Utilizing Home PT/OT For Stretching Programs While at Home is Beneficial for Seniors.
Physical and occupational therapy practitioners know the musculoskeletal system very well and are intimately familiar with the negative consequences of not stretching regularly.
If you are a senior who was prescribed PT or OT interventions for medical or post-operative conditions, you are expected to carry on those exercises at home for the indefinite future.
Stretching interventions include passive and active range of motion exercises where seniors conscientiously and repetitively guide their joints into full range daily to maintain flexibility.
Seniors should also make sure that they are following any ranging or weight bearing precautions prescribed by their doctors, which is commonly seen during the recovery periods after joint replacement surgeries.
Using YouTube Videos To Perform Stretching Exercises at Home .
If you prefer to complete your stretching at home, but have a hard time staying motivated or coming up with exercises then turn on that computer and find Youtube. Fortunately, we live in a day in age where there are hundreds if not thousands of free exercise videos available for seniors to use for stretching.
Make sure you peruse several videos before trying one out. Look for the videos that challenge you but don’t create any adverse health effects.
Always consult with your doctor prior to starting new exercise regimens, especially if you are living with heart, circulatory, and respiratory conditions.
How Often Should Exercises Be Done to Maintain Flexibility?
According to the CDC (2021), aging adults over the age of 65 should be getting at least 150 minutes of exercise per week with mixes of aerobic and muscle strengthening activities.
Of course, the minutes and types of exercise will vary depending on the person and their medical history.
In reality, there is no such thing as too much time spent stretching. The real dangers are if the stretch is being done wrong or too harshly on the muscle tissue, which can result in unwanted damage.
Stretch everyday for at least 15-20 minutes, with efforts in stretching every joint of the body for at least 10-30 seconds each. Stretch the joints to the point where it’s slightly uncomfortable but not painful.
Supplementing Stretching with Healthy Lifestyle Practices.
In order for stretching to be even more effective, seniors can adopt healthy lifestyle practices such as improved diet and fluid intake.
Drink water when you’re thirsty and limit sodas, sugary drinks, and caffeinated beverages. Minimize fatty, processed, and sugar-added foods while increasing vegetable, fruit, and protein intake.
Keep the muscle tissue healthy by making healthy food and drink choices that are supposed to nourish bodily tissues.
Stretching is a vital, but severely under-utilized practice amongst seniors. Start the healthy habits now. If you are already exercising, pair your regimens with 15-20 minutes worth of stretching.
If you need ideas for where to start, talk to your doctor or an exercise therapist. Hop online and make a list of stretching exercise videos.
Stretch with a friend or a loved one who can keep you honest. Start today to prevent future health problems later on.
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