DEAR SAVVY SENIOR: Can you offer some good stretching tips and resources for seniors? I've gotten so inflexible in recent years I can hardly bend over to tie my shoes anymore.
— Stiff Senior
DEAR STIFF: Of all possible exercises, stretching tends to be the most overlooked and neglected among seniors, yet nothing is more vital to keeping an aging body limber and injury-free. Here's what you should know, along with some tips and resources to help you regain some flexibility.
As we age, our muscles naturally lose their elasticity if we're not active.
But the good news is, by incorporating some simple stretching exercises into your routine (at least three times a week), you can greatly improve your flexibility, as well as enhance your balance, posture and circulation, relieve pain and stress, and prevent injuries. In addition, stretching is important as a warm-up and cool-down for more vigorous activities.
Stretching exercises should focus on the muscles in your calves, front and back thighs, hips, lower and upper back, chest, shoulders and neck. If you've had hip or back surgery, you should talk to your doctor before doing lower-back flexibility exercises.
If you don't have any experience with stretching, books such as “Stretching for Dummies” and “Stretching for 50+” are available at bookstores or amazon.com that provide instructions and illustrations of proper techniques.
There also are a number of DVDs and videos you can buy to guide you through a series of stretching exercises you can do at home. When stretching, it's important to listen to your body. You want to stretch each muscle group to the point where the muscle feels tight. If it hurts, you've gone too far. Back off to the point where you don't feel any pain, then hold the stretch for 10 to 20 seconds.
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