Can’t bend very far now? No problem. With regular stretching, you’ll ease stiff joints and tight muscles.
Some people can effortlessly touch their noses to their unbent knees. Most of us can’t. And while that specific skill may never be necessary in life, becoming more flexible can enrich your life in many ways.
Ultimately, flexibility is about enjoying your life. By increasing your range of motion, you’ll be less prone to injury while exercising, traveling, or playing with your grandkids. You’ll feel less stiff and more comfortable going about everyday activities like walking, lifting, bending, and even driving. You’ll improve your posture, circulation, and balance while relieving pain and stress.
Your goal: Gain flexibility in the muscles you use most in your day-to-day activities. Start with your neck, shoulders, chest, back, hips, thighs, hamstrings, and calves. The stretches here can help.
Gaining flexibility takes time. Go slowly, and listen to your body. One stretch doesn’t fit everyone, but there are many variations. For example, if you can’t sit on the floor to stretch your thighs, try a standing thigh exercise. As you improve flexibility, you’ll be able to reach farther with the same stretch—or try different stretches for the same muscle.
Other tips to keep in mind:
- Warm up by walking in place for five minutes. This will prepare your heart, muscles, and joints for activity.
- Never force a stretch. Don’t bounce or jerk to get deeper into a stretch. Smooth, gentle movements are safer.
- Don’t lock your joints. Your arms and legs can be straight while stretching, but they shouldn’t be stiff. If it’s more comfortable, bend your elbows and knees slightly.
- Keep breathing. Like your movements, your breath should be slow and steady.
- Aim to stretch every day. Try it for 10 to 15 minutes a day, at least three days a week. Stretch each muscle group three to five times each session.
Simple Stretches for Stiff Joints and Tight Muscles
With consistency, even the most inflexible among us can get more limber. Try these simple but effective stretches from the National Institute on Aging Go4Life program. You’ll need a towel, sturdy chair, wall, and bench or flat surface.
Stand or sit in a sturdy chair with your feet flat on the floor about shoulder-width apart. Turn your head slowly to the right until you feel a gentle stretch. Make sure not to tip your head forward or backward. Hold for 10 to 30 seconds, then turn your head to the left. Repeat three to five times.
Shoulders and Upper Arms
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold one end of a towel in your right hand. Raise and bend your right arm to drape the towel down your back. Keeping your right arm in place, reach behind your lower back and grasp the opposite end of the towel with your left hand. Now, you should be holding the towel with your right hand behind your neck and your left hand behind your lower back. Gently pull the towel down with your left hand. You should feel a gentle stretch, but stop if you feel pain. Do three to five times. Switch hands so your left hand is behind neck and your right hand is behind lower back, and repeat.
Arms, Chest, and Shoulders
Stand slightly farther than arm’s length facing a wall with your feet shoulder-width apart. Lean forward, and put your palms flat against the wall at shoulder height and about shoulder-width apart. Keeping your back straight, slowly walk your hands up the wall until your arms are above your head, or as far as comfortable. Hold your arms overhead for 10 to 30 seconds, then slowly walk your hands back down. Repeat at least three times.
Sit toward the front of the chair with your feet about shoulder-width apart and flat on the floor. Keeping your neck and back straight, slowly bend forward from your hips. Slightly relax your chin and neck. If you can go a little deeper, continue bending your body toward the floor, and slide your hands down your legs toward your shins. Hold for 10 to 30 seconds, then slowly straighten up until you are in starting position. Repeat at least three times.
Stand behind the chair with your feet shoulder-width apart and knees straight but not locked. Hold onto the chair with your right hand for balance. Bend your left leg back toward your rear, and grab your foot with your left hand. Keep your knee pointed toward the floor. If you can’t quite reach your ankle, you can loop a towel, belt, or exercise band around your foot, and hold both ends. Gently pull your left foot toward your rear until you feel a stretch in the front of your legs. Hold for 10 to 30 seconds, then slowly straighten up until you are in starting position. Repeat at least three times with each leg.
Sit sideways on a bench or other flat surface. Keeping your back straight and left foot on the floor, stretch out your right leg on the bench with your toes pointed up. If you feel a stretch, hold for 10 to 30 seconds. If you don’t feel a stretch, lean forward from your hips, not your waist. Stop when you feel a gentle stretch, and hold for 10 to 20 seconds. Slowly straighten up until you are in starting position. Repeat at least three times with each leg.
Stand slightly farther than arm’s length facing a wall with your feet shoulder-width apart. Lean forward, and put your palms flat against the wall at shoulder height and about shoulder-width apart. Step forward with your right leg, and bend your right knee. Keeping both feet flat on the floor, bend left knee slightly until you feel a gentle stretch in your left calf muscle. If you don’t feel a stretch, bend your right knee until you do. Hold for 10 to 30 seconds, then return to starting position. Repeat at least three times with each leg.
More Ways to Stretch
Check out the video below for more stretches you can do anytime, anywhere. All you need is a sturdy chair and a wall for balance if you need it.
Prefer to exercise in a group? Yoga and tai chi are fun ways to improve flexibility and balance. Watch the video below to learn more about SilverSneakers Yoga. You can also look for FLEX or fitness classes in your area.