Stretch it out!

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10 ways to improve flexibility

According to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), as we age, muscles lose their elasticity unless used regularly, leading to stiffness and soreness. Stretching is the best way to regain and improve flexibility, helping seniors remain active and independent.

By incorporating some simple stretching exercises into your routine, you can greatly improve your flexibility, as well as enhance your balance, posture and circulation, relieve pain and stress, and prevent injuries.

Here are 10 tips for making the most of your stretching exercises:

  1. Warm up before stretching with light aerobic activity such as an easy walk.
  2. Make sure you know the correct way to do a stretch. Have a trainer model it for you or watch a video.
  3. Don’t bounce during stretching; this can cause injury.
  4. Avoid jerking movements; go slow and make fluid movements.
  5. Hold stretches for 60 seconds for maximum benefit.
  6. Breathe deeply during each stretch. Don’t hold your breath.
  7. Stretching should not cause pain. If it does, stop.
  8. Stretches should be performed at least three times a week.
  9. Don’t combine turning and bending back exercises at the same time.
  10. Be mindful of the position of your spine during stretches. Try to keep good posture.

In addition to stretching, other forms of exercise, such as yoga, chair yoga and tai chi, also improve flexibility. To locate a class in your area, call your local senior center, health club or wellness center.

Remember, flexibility training will only show benefits if it is done regularly with the correct form and duration of stretch. For more information, visit go4life.nia.nih.gov, a resource created by the National Institute on Aging that offers a free exercise DVD and booklet that provide illustrated examples of stretching exercises. You can order free copies online or by calling 800-222-2225.