When I told a neighbor in Sun City I was writing an article on stretching, she responded, “I have High Tea at 5:00 this afternoon. That’s where I do my stretching.” I said, “High Tea would certainly be a stretch for me.” She looked confused and then clarified: “I said I have Tai Chi at 5:00, not High Tea.”
In Part 1 of Seniors and Exercise, we discussed walking, something that seems so fundamental we should not need to talk about it. But for many of us, walking is one of the few exercises we can still do. And being reasonably ambulatory adds to our quality of life as well as to our personal independence. Nevertheless, if we can sit, we can at least stretch. And if we can stand, there are even more stretching exercises we can do.
If you watch seniors golf, especially if they are among younger golfers, you can see how much flexibility the seniors have lost. Some of that loss is inevitable, but much of it is unnecessary and perhaps even recoverable.
Silversneakers.com answers the question “Where do I start?”
How to begin when you can’t even bend over? Slow and easy. Gaining flexibility takes time — especially for the Oh-So-Inflexible! Be safe, don’t push yourself too fast, and don’t give up. Here are a few tips to get you started:
- Warm-up with a short walk before start stretching.
- Never force a stretch. If you can only go an inch into a stretch before you feel it, start there. You should feel slight pulling; not pain.
- Think smooth. Don’t bounce or jerk to get further into a stretch – smooth, steady movements are safer and more effective.
- Don’t lock your joints. Your arms and legs can be straight while stretching, but don’t lock the joints. Bend your elbows or knees slightly if it’s more comfortable.
- Keep breathing. Your breathing should be slow and steady throughout each stretch.
- Stretch every day. To gain flexibility, try to stretch for 10 to 15 minutes every day (3 days/week at a minimum). Stretch each muscle group 3 to 5 times at each session.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Seniors Health suggests 12 flexibility exercises and provides videos demonstrating proper technique. What I see in our active adult community is that residents are much more likely to exercise in a group setting than on their own. What I also see is folks at the gym who obviously have had outstanding training in how to stretch properly and safely. Sun City has many fitness classes that will enhance flexibility, including chair yoga, water aerobics, and of course “High Tea,” also known as Tai Chi.
So, if you join a fitness class, you will probably exercise more often and enjoy it much more than trying to exercise on your own.
As I said at the beginning of this series, the greatest benefit to good health is independence. A regular stretching regimen can mean years of added self-determination as well as an opportunity to enjoy friends and family. Add some stretching to your walking regimen. Give it a try.