I have always exercised since I was a young boy. In my teens and 20’s living in the UK, I played football, cricket and was a reasonably successful competition weightlifter for 3 years in my late teens.
But as the wear and tear of football took its toll on my knees, and the threat of a double cartilage operation loomed (At that time there was no micro-surgery so this would have been 6 weeks of excruciating pain), I reluctantly gave up competitive football and took up squash (Still very hard on the knees but it seemed to be ok compared to football).
I jogged and walked regularly, and fortunately I always loved being out in nature and my passion from youth has been bird watching, and I have continued that life-long interest in many countries all over the world.
In recent years I have been a regular gym member and, combined with walking and jogging, that has kept me fit.
But my one weakness was always stretching – my flexibility was always bad. I could never touch my toes with locked knees and at the time I put my stiff body down to my genetic inheritance.
That all changed in 2012, when I took my teenage daughter to our family doctor because she always had sore knees and was unable to play regular competitive sports.
He simply told her she needed to stretch daily, in particular my dreaded touching toes with locked knees. He maintained this lack of flexibility was the most common cause of wonky knees in young adults.
This intrigued me, so I thought I would also do a short stretching routine every morning, to see whether my flexibility would improve after all these years.
To my surprise my flexibility soon improved and after 2 months I could easily touch my toes. I have continued with this short stretching routine ever since (less than 10 minutes, every morning) and can now comfortably put my hands flat on the floor with locked knees and my knees have improved so much so that I started jogging again after a 5 year abstinence because of sore and painful knees.
It took me over 60 years to understand the importance of stretching and the positive impact it could have, so I decided to tell my story and to research the facts to share with you.
Now I am not a fitness expert, I just have a lifetime of experience and I partake to maintain my physical and mental fitness. So I am just going to share the results of my research with you, then recommend a great resource that is the most comprehensive and easy to follow source for stretching (and other) exercises that I am aware of.
Why It’s Important to Stretch Regularly
First off, don’t assume that as you age you will automatically lose your flexibility.
Although it’s true that our muscles will tend to become shorter and lose their elasticity; by doing the right exercises and stretches regularly you can offset the effects of aging so that your biological age is quite a bit younger than your chronological age. .
For instance, I have been in this lifetime for 68 years, but having been assessed a number of times for my biological age (physical and mental) it runs consistently between 40 and 45 years old. Now I have achieved that not only by exercise, but also a healthy diet and lifestyle in general.
Did you know that regular stretching is just as important as regular exercise? If you are like I used to be, and like the great majority of older adults, you’ve probably overlooked this key element of your fitness.
Hopefully my personal experience, that I shared with you above, will inspire you to give it a go; to experience the improvements in flexibility that I have experienced with just 10 minutes a day of simple stretching.
To achieve overall physical fitness you need to be able to move freely in all directions and to maintain your mobility as you age; without which your life and activity is very restricted and much less fun.
A few basic tips before yo start:
When you first start, stretch the muscles gradually with a gentle stretch which you should then hold for just two seconds. Don’t force the stretch; instead do multiple stretches and the muscle tension will be progressively released. You will feel it becoming easier and easier with every repetition.
Tip 2: Between each repetition, return to the starting position before commencing the next repetition. This will allow the tissue to receive blood that carries oxygen and nutrients, and it will also allow waste products generated during the stretch to be removed.
Tip 3: Drink more water as that will contribute to increased mobility for tissues and joints that have become less supple. Most people do not drink enough water.
For more information see my article: The Importance of Water
Stretching exercises may seem difficult at first, but even if you start with just a little movement, as your body adapts you can gradually build up over time.
Any amount of stretching for older people can be incredibly beneficial and will almost certainly extend your active life.
Some of the main benefits of stretching
Here are some of the main benefits of stretching:
- Will improve your flexibility and increase your range of motion
- Helps to correct your posture by stretching tight under-used muscles.
- Reduces risk of injury when done before physical activity by preparing muscles for more strenuous activity – this is even more important as you age.
- Increases blood and nutrient supply to muscles, maintaining muscle health and strength.
- Improved circulation – Increased blood flow to muscles and joints helps to remove toxins, maintain healthy tissues, and lubricates joints.
- Can help to reduce stress and calm your mind. If you do it mindfully (ie not thinking about your next chore) it is a form of meditation, and gives your body a chance to relax and recharge
- As with any form of exercise, the increased blood flow to the brain will improve brain health. And mental well-being
The overall result is that your increased mobility and decreased pain enables you to stay active and enjoy a healthier life as you age.
Some Final guidance for stretching
- Never hold your breath when stretching. You need a good supply of oxygen to benefit.
- Warm up lightly before stretching (eg, walking at a normal pace, some basic simple stretches or just gently moving every part of your body).
- Stretch slowly and don’t bounce. You should never feel any pain, and If you do, immediately stop that particular stretch.
- If you’ve had any major surgery such as a knee or hip replacement, be careful. Speak with your doctor or surgeon before starting.
Before starting your new stretching routine, be sure to contact your health professional. He or she will have an intimate knowledge of your personal health circumstances and is best placed to offer advice and guidance.
So now you are fully equipped to learn the various stretching techniques and exercises and to decide which ones work best for you personally. So as I promised, here is a link to the best source I was able to find for detailed training on Stretching and Flexibility.
My recommendation is the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) Seniors website, which I was pleasantly surprised to discover has comprehensive stretching programs and exercises including video demonstrations, which is by far the easiest way to understand and carry out the exercises properly. Follow the link below to get started.
Nih seniorhealth – Flexibility Exercises
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I wish your well for your stretching and flexibility training.
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Recommended source for comprehensive stretching exercises and video demonstrations:
Nih seniorhealth – Flexibility Exercises
Other sources I referred to for this article:
Life Hacker.com Why Stretching Is Just as Important as Exercise
Benefits of stretching for older adults: http://www.htstherapy.com/benefits-stretching-older-adults/
Why Stretching is Great For Older Adults: