7 Simple Stretches for Older Adults

By the Editors of SilverSneakers |

Ease stiff joints and improve your flexibility with these gentle moves—including many you can do in a chair!

stretching exercises

Need to turn your head to check for traffic, or reach into the cupboard for a plate? Want to improve your golf swing—or your cha-cha?

Better flexibility can help with all of those. A more flexible body means you’ll have a greater range of motion in your joints, which makes it easier to move.

And if you spend a lot of time sitting or looking at a screen, you’ll want to work the stiffness out of your shoulders, back, and hips.

Ready to loosen up? These simple stretches can help.

How to Use These Stretches

These stretches are meant to be versatile, and you should feel free to use them however they best help you.

You can pick one or two stretches to do anytime you want to relieve joint stiffness or muscle tension. Or you can do all seven together at the end of your normal workout or on their own as a stretching routine. They’re gentle enough to do every day, if you wish.

Most of these stretches can be done without any equipment and with minimal space, but you can modify them as needed. For example, most of the standing and floor stretches can also be done in a chair. Plus, you’ll see other tips to make the stretches easier.

If performing these stretches as a routine, you’ll want clear space, a mat, and a bench or chair. Get your blood flowing by walking in place for five minutes. Perform each stretch for 10 to 30 seconds, and repeat up to three rounds.

As you stretch, breathe deeply, and go slowly. Listen to your body, and never force a movement that causes pain. It’s okay if you can’t bend very far now. It’s more important to use good form. And with regular stretching, your flexibility will improve.

Here’s how to perform each stretch. As always, safety is key. The stretches here may be different or more advanced than those you’ll experience in a SilverSneakers class. If you have a chronic condition (including osteoporosis), an injury, or balance issues, talk to your doctor about how you can exercise safely.

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1. Overhead Side Stretch

Hold for 10 to 30 seconds per side

How to do it: Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart. Raise your arms overhead. If you’d like, interlace your fingers.

Keeping your torso long, gently lean to the left, and hold for 10 to 30 seconds. Return to center, and repeat on the other side.

Make it easier:
Sit tall in a chair, keeping your hips, knees, and toes forward. If it’s uncomfortable to lift your arms overhead, rest your arms on your hips, or keep them down by your sides.

2. Shoulder Stretch

Hold for 10 to 30 seconds per side

How to do it: Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart. Reach your right arm across your body. Place your left hand on your upper right arm, and gently draw your right arm closer. Hold for 10 to 30 seconds. Release, switch arms, and repeat.

Make it easier:
Sit tall in a chair, keeping your hips, knees, and toes forward. If this stretch is uncomfortable, try the shoulder roll. It’s a great stretch for your neck and shoulders.

3. Triceps Stretch

Hold for 10 to 30 seconds per side

How to do it: Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart. Raise your arms overhead, and bend your right arm so it’s behind your head. Place your left hand above your right elbow, and gently draw your right arm in. Hold for 10 to 30 seconds. Release, switch arms, and repeat.

Make it easier: Sit tall in a chair, keeping your hips, knees, and toes forward. For a shallower stretch, don’t reach your bottom hand as far. Aim for the back of your head rather than the base of your neck.

4. Hamstring Stretch

Hold for 10 to 30 seconds per side

How to do it: Place your right heel on a bench with your leg straight and toes up. Without rounding your lower back, gently hinge forward from your hips until you feel a comfortable stretch. Hold for 10 to 30 seconds. Release, switch legs, and repeat.

Make it easier: Do this stretch while seated in a chair, resting your heel on the floor in front of you.

5. Calf Stretch

Hold for 10 to 30 seconds per side

How to do it: Stand with your left leg in front and slightly bent, and your right leg straight behind you. If you’d like, perform this move near a wall or counter, holding on for support.

Gently press your right heel into the floor to feel a comfortable stretch. Hold for 10 to 30 seconds. Release, switch legs, and repeat.

Make it easier: Sit in a chair for seated calf stretch. See how in our guide to foot exercises for older adults.

6. Supine Knee to Chest Stretch

Hold for 10 to 30 seconds per side

How to do it: Lie on a mat with your legs straight. If that’s uncomfortable, bend both knees, and rest your feet on the mat.

Keeping your upper body down, lift your right knee toward your chest as far as comfortable. Gently grasp the back of your thigh to draw your leg closer to your chest. Hold for 10 to 30 seconds. Release, switch legs, and repeat.

To come out of the pose, sit up slowly, gently rolling to your side first if needed. Check that you feel steady before standing up.

Make it easier: Sit in a chair for seated knee to chest. See how in our guide to yoga moves to ease back pain.

7. Cat-Cow Stretch

Alternate for 10 to 30 seconds

How to do it: Start on all fours with your hands below shoulders and knees below hips.

Gently round your back up toward the ceiling (like a cat) while tucking your chin toward your tailbone. Then reverse the movement by arching your back (think about a cow) while lifting your hips and head. Continue alternating for 10 to 30 seconds.

Make it easier: If getting on the floor is uncomfortable, perform seated or standing cat-cow.

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