Fit After 50: Stretching: Improve Your Flexibility

NOTE: Once again, be sure to check with your doctor or health care practitioner before testing out any of our suggestions or starting a new exercise program.

As if it is not enough that our skin gets saggy and wrinkled and that our hair turns gray, our muscles and our tendons tend to get tighter as we age, too. Now here we open up a delightfully complicated topic: tight muscles versus over-toned or hypertonic muscles. When I refer to “tight” muscles, I am referring to muscles that have shortened from either lack of use or wrong use (like tight hamstrings from sitting too long or tight shoulder muscles from hunching over a computer keyboard). Hypertonic muscles are muscles that are receiving too many nerve impulses so that the muscles are contracting more than they should and so becoming tight. In this particular article, I am referring to tight muscles from misuse or lack of use. All other issues should be dealt with by your local physical therapist. Trust me on this: after 50, it is very handy to have a PT as your BFF.

Things to keep in mind, though, before you begin:

  • Everyone’s level of flexibility is different. Don’t force any move.
  • Warm up before you stretch. Once again, a warm muscle is less likely to be injured by activity, even stretching. Stretching does not replace warm up activities.
  • Hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds before moving to the next one.
  • Never bounce. Stretches should be held. Bouncing causes tight muscles and tendons to tear.
  • Learn the difference between the discomfort of a good stretch and the pain of a bad one. NEVER stretch to the point of pain; it is counterproductive.

Most of the people I know need to stretch their necks, shoulders, hips and hamstrings. There are many different kinds of stretches; here are just a few of the simple ones that I use. If you have favorite ones, we would love to hear about them. Once again, if you have any musculoskeletal problems, please see a physical therapist for stretches and exercises targeted for your specific issues.

Neck stretch: Turn your head as far as you can to the left and hold for 30 seconds, and then repeat turning your head to the right. Then tilt your head so that your left ear moves toward your left shoulder and hold for 30 seconds. Repeat on the right side.

Shoulder stretch: Standing in front of a wall, walk your fingers up the wall as far as you can and then hold for 30 seconds.

Hip Stretch: Sitting on a chair, put your right ankle on the top of your left knee and gently bend forward until you feel the “pull.” Hold for 30 seconds and then repeat on the other side. (Note: Phil just tried this and almost wiped out his knee. If you have knee problems, or if you are not very flexible, this stretch is not for you.)

Hamstrings: Standing in front of a staircase or a small stool, put your right heel on one of the stairs or on the stool. Keeping your back perfectly straight and your knee unlocked, bend forward from the hips until you feel the “pull.” Hold for 30 seconds and then repeat on the opposite side.

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