For aging adults going from inactivity to activity, flexibility
training may offer a good start towards a healthy lifestyle. This
type of training may lack the high profile of cardiovascular
exercise and strength training, but it can improve range of motion,
decrease pain and soreness after exercise, improve posture, and
decrease muscle tension. More importantly, stretching can make the
difference in comfort when performing tasks such as putting a shirt
or blouse on in the morning or reaching for a cup of tea or coffee.
As a result, flexibility can contribute significantly to overall
functional fitness, helping older adults safely and effectively
accomplish independent activities of daily living.
Consider that most research studies suggest a combination of
flexibility training with other interventions, balance, core,
muscular endurance and resistance training, along with some form of
Guidelines indicate that a flexibility program should begin with a
total of five to ten stretches for both the upper and lower body.
Although this program might focus on muscles prone to tightness,
such as hamstrings (back of thighs), it should concentrate mainly on
an individual’s physical requirements as determined by a physical
Practitioners should assess a person’s range of motion before
beginning any specific stretch. Older adults may have limited
mobility due to arthritis or past injury. Also proper posture and
biomechanics are important to help avoid “overcompensating” or
strain to complete a stretch.
It is wise to stretch slowly and gradually to increase range of
movement. Bouncing needs to be eliminated; rather, hold a stretch
long enough to feel slight discomfort for 15 to 30 seconds, while
continuing to breathe normally. Each stretch should be repeated at
least three times. The best results are obtained if performing
stretching exercises at least two days a week, minimum and after
some type of cardiovascular exercise, as “cold” muscles are much
stiffer and harder to stretch than “warm” muscles.
As an essential part of everyday life, from driving to dressing to
cleaning, lack of flexibility can limit a person’s life. This type
of training contributes to functional fitness, helping older adults
stay independent as they age.
Stretching activities belong in any physical activity program for
adults at any age, improving general health safely and effectively.
Before an initial program, your health and wellness practitioner
should conduct a physical assessment and refer to client’s physician
prior to starting on any exercise regime.
American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) “Position Stand:
Exercise and Physical Activity for Older Adults.”
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