11 reasons why you should be stretching after 60
You may think stretching is only for runners or athletes, but we all need to stretch in order to protect our mobility and independence. “A lot of people don’t understand that stretching has to happen on a regular basis, it should be daily,” says David Nolan, a physical therapist at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.
Why is stretching important?
Stretching keeps the muscles flexible, strong, and healthy, and we need that flexibility to maintain a range of motion in the joints. Without it, the muscles shorten and become tight. Then, when you call on the muscles for activity, they are weak and unable to extend all the way. That puts you at risk for joint pain, strains, and muscle damage.
Some of the health benefits of stretching are:
- relief from pain, specifically lower back, neck or shoulders
- increased energy levels
- improved flexibility
- better range of motion of the joints
- greater circulation of blood to various parts of the body
- make everyday movements easier
- relaxation and stress relief
- enhanced muscular coordination
- Assist in correct posture
- greater sense of well-being
- potential to decrease injury
- increases nutrient supply to muscles to help reduce muscle soreness
So let’s explore in more detail why it’s important for anyone over 60 to regularly stretch. Here’s 11 benefits of stretching that’s linked to improvements in health and wellbeing.
1. Increases flexibility and range of motion
As we age, our muscles tighten and we have less range of motion in our joints. Simple activities that we once took for granted, like cutting our toenails, picking things up from the floor or zipping a dress, can all become difficult. A regular stretching program can help lengthen your muscles and make these daily activities easier and more enjoyable.
2. Improves circulation
Stretching improves circulation of blood to the muscles and joints. Increased blood circulation, of course, brings nutrients to our cells and removes waste byproducts.
3. Better posture
Chronically tense and tight muscles contribute to poor posture, which in turn can affect the functioning of our internal organs, not to mention our appearance. Stretching the muscles of the lower back, shoulders and chest can help keep the back in better alignment and improve posture.
4. Relaxation and stress relief
Stretching, done properly, helps to relax tense muscles which result from stress. The feeling of relaxation brings a sense of well-being and relief from tension.
5. Reduces or prevents lower back pain
Greater flexibility and range of motion in the hamstrings and muscles of the hips and pelvis help to reduce the stress on your spine that causes lower back pain.
The benefits of stretching are often much more far-reaching than those described above. Where people have reported great improvement and sometimes complete healing from arthritis, multiple sclerosis, headaches, back/neck/shoulder pain, bursitis, depression, fatigue and even conditions like fibromyalgia.
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6. Improves blood flow, and confidence
It’s easy to forget to stretch. It’s often overlooked because the results are not as visible as lifting weights and squatting—or so you thought. Stretching can lead to better posture, fewer aches and pains, greater confidence, and a cheerier outlook on life.
“That’s because stretching increases your blood flow and circulation for a healthier body and sends oxygen to your brain for a clearer mind and sunnier moods,” says Peggy Hall, wellness expert.
7. Good for the mind
Even a short amount of time (5-10 minutes) stretching can calm the mind, provide a mental break, and give your body a chance to recharge. Also, yoga or pilates classes offer you a chance to spend an hour releasing tension physically and mentally.
8. Releases your glutes, reducing pain
When we’re at work or at home, we do a lot of sitting, but did you know sitting is tough on your body, especially on your glutes? When you’re sitting, the nerves that activate your glutes can shut down in a very short period of time.
If you are a repetitive ‘sitter,’ the glute muscle begins the process of atrophy. This means that the glute muscle begins to degenerate (not in a good way). When your glutes shut down, other muscles and joints in your body become over-stressed and can result in pain in places such as the knees and lower back.
The most effective way to combat this problem is to keep your glutes active. Getting up and stretching your glutes and hip flexors is a good first step to wake up these muscles. Whether you work out or not, stretching these tight muscles can reduce future injury and pain.
9. Improves balance
Daily use of muscles can cause them to get tight, especially if you regularly carry a purse or backpack. “The heavier the bag, the more your body can tighten up on one side,” says Nicole Palacios, certified personal trainer. “Stretching can alleviate muscle tightness and bring your body back to feeling better balanced.”
10. Reduces depression and anxiety
Recent studies about relaxation exercises, including forms of stretching like yoga, saw greater reductions in anxiety and depression than people who didn’t. Yoga had the strongest staying power. Positive effects from the stretching, breathing and meditation exercises stuck around six months later in older adults. “It could help counterbalance the negative effects of ageing, improve physical functioning, postpone disability, decrease morbidity and mortality, stimulate the mind, and increase hope, reducing the risk of anxiety and depression,”
11. Improves regular workouts
And obviously, if you are working out, running, swimming or cycling, stretching can do your body wonders. “After exercising, your muscles may feel tight. During weight training, your muscle length shortens; this can leave you feeling tight and sore,” Palacios says. “Directly after your workout, you should stretch the muscles that you just trained to feel less tense.”
So, ready to get stretching? Here’s a few tips before you start…
If you can find 3-5 minutes to stretch per day – you’ll get the benefits of improved flexibility, less injuries, better circulation and you will feel a whole lot more energised. Even if you don’t have time for a big workout, stretching in the morning and night really changes your body.
Ok, I want to start stretching, where to start?
Now that we know how important stretching is for your physical and mental state, especially over 60.
The areas critical for mobility are in your lower extremities: your calves, your hamstrings, your hip flexors in the pelvis and quadriceps in the front of the thigh. Stretching your shoulders, neck, and lower back is also beneficial. Aim for a program of daily stretches or at least three or four times per week.
Hold a stretch for 30 seconds. Don’t bounce, which can cause injury. You’ll feel tension during a stretch, but you should not feel pain. If you do, there may be an injury or damage in the tissue. Stop stretching that muscle, and talk to your doctor.
Find a physical therapist who can assess your muscle strength and tailor a stretching program to fit your needs. If you have chronic conditions such as Parkinson’s disease or arthritis, you’ll want to clear a new stretching regimen with your doctor before you start.
Remember to stretch smart
To reap the benefits of stretching, you have to do it the right way. Hold the stretch at the first sensation of resistance, then breathe your way through it. Imagine and feel the muscle tissue becoming more supple.
Modify, adapt, and adjust the stretch to suit your particular needs. Use padding under your knees for example, or try the same stretch sitting down, lying down, or standing up if it’s more comfortable for you.
Instead of thinking, ‘I’m so tight!’ or ‘Stretching is agony’, replace your mental sounds with ‘This is just what my body needs’ and ‘I’m getting more flexible each time I stretch’.
A few simple rules around stretching
- Don’t bounce. Stretch in a smooth movement, without bouncing. Bouncing as you stretch can injure your muscle and actually contribute to muscle tightness.
- Hold your stretch. Breathe normally and hold each stretch for about 30 seconds; in problem areas, you may need to hold for around 60 seconds.
- Don’t aim for pain. Expect to feel tension while you’re stretching, not pain. If it hurts, you’ve pushed too far. Back off to the point where you don’t feel any pain, then hold the stretch.
- Know when to exercise caution. You might need to approach stretching with caution. If you have a chronic condition or an injury, you might need to adjust your stretching techniques. For example, if you already have a strained muscle, stretching it may cause further harm.
- Don’t rush it. Enjoy the little bit of downtime you get, when you stretch.
– Heart of healing. Benefits of Stretching. Read article
– 6 Good Reasons You Need to Stretch. By Ysolt Usigan. Read article
– Harvard Health Letter, The importance of stretching – September 2013. Read article
– Effects of relaxation interventions on depression and anxiety among older adults: a systematic review. Aging & Mental Health, Volume 19, Issue 12, 2015. Read journal
Introduce more stretching and exercise in your life to improve your health and wellbeing
Volume four focuses on best practises to staying relaxed and breaking away from everyday stress and anxiety. This includes exercise and stretching, among other things. You will discover activities and exercises to stay relaxed, how to reduce stress and anxiety and develop activities to keep you on the right path to a healthy retirement. Read more on Volume 4.
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