5 Stretches That Can Help You Stay Flexible as You Age

Mature woman stretching her arms and legs while sitting on a mat in her living room.

When you think of exercise, jogging and weightlifting might come to mind, but what about stretching? It takes a backseat for many, but daily stretching is an important part of maintaining flexibility, mobility and independence as you age.

In celebration of National Stretching Day, let’s explore the importance of stretching and then review five simple stretches that can help you stay flexible!

What Does Stretching Do?

Let’s start with the basics. What exactly is stretching? To explain it simply, stretching pulls a muscle beyond its usual range of motion.

There are many complex things that happen inside your body when you stretch a muscle. These processes help make the muscle longer, stronger and more flexible. This helps increase your range of motion and reduce your risk of injury.

Daily stretching is important, but especially before and after exercise. That’s because without stretching, muscles are shorter and tighter. Exercising on unstretched muscles that are unable to extend all the way puts you at risk for muscle damage, strains and joint pain.

Why is Stretching Important as We Age?

Stretching is important for people of all ages, but it becomes increasingly important as we get older. That’s because as we age, our muscle mass declines. This can lead to reduced strength, balance and flexibility, causing pain, falls and overall loss of mobility.

However, maintaining a regular exercise regimen that includes stretching can help you mitigate these negative effects of aging. The CDC recommends adults 65 and older engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise every week.

Additional possible benefits of stretching include:

  • Improved ability to perform daily activities
  • Decreased risk of injuries
  • More flexible joints
  • Increased blood flow
  • Improved posture

Work exercise into your day with these 5 easy and free tips!

5 Stretches That Can Help You Stay Flexible

Getting into a stretching routine may feel overwhelming at first. You might have visions of athletes performing complex yoga poses, but it doesn’t need to be that complicated. Here are some simple stretches that people of varying ages and abilities can perform. But first, be sure to complete a brief 5-to-10-minute warmup of light walking, jogging or biking; this is important because stretching without a warmup could lead to injuries!

1. Overhead Side Stretch

Targets the sides of your torso—aka your obliques and latissimus dorsi

See a video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V_I4I02k5Lg

  • Sit in a chair with your hips, knees and toes forward, or stand with your feet hip-width apart.
  • Lift your right arm up and gently lean to the left and hold for 10 to 30 seconds.
  • Return to the center and repeat on the other side.

2. Shoulder Stretch

Targets your shoulder joint and surrounding muscles
See a video here:

Sit in a chair with your hips, knees and toes forward, or stand with your feet hip-width apart.

  • Reach your right arm across your body.
  • Place your left hand on your arm, gently draw your right arm closer to your body and hold 10 to 30 seconds.
  • Release, switch arms and repeat on the other side.

3. Triceps Stretch

Targets the backs of your upper arms—aka your triceps

See a video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zRVVvgJSdrQ

  • Sit in a chair with your hips, knees and toes forward, or stand with your feet hip-width apart.
  • Raise your right arm overhead and bend so it’s behind your head.
  • Use your left hand to gently apply pressure to your right arm (from the front, or from behind your head if you’re able) and hold 10 to 30 seconds.
  • Release, switch arms and repeat on the other side.

3. Quadriceps Stretch

Targets the fronts of your upper legs—aka your quadriceps

See a video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g4v_QK893eI

  • Stand behind a chair or a couch for support and hold on to support with left hand.
  • Bend your right knee and use your right hand to grab your leg by the ankle.
  • Gently pull your foot toward your bottom and hold for 10 to 30 seconds.
  • Release leg and repeat on other side.

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4. Seated Hamstring Stretch

Targets the backs of your upper legs—aka your hamstrings

See a video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u55F2jOzBVI

  • Sit in a chair and scoot toward the edge of the chair.
  • Extend your right leg out so your knee is straight and bend forward, reaching your hands to your toes. Hold 10 to 30 seconds.
  • Release slowly and repeat on other side.

5. Calf Stretch

Targets the backs of your lower legs—aka your calves

See a video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j4ytUXLf_1w

  • Stand facing a wall.
  • Place your right foot in front of your left and place both hands on the wall for support.
  • Slowly bend your knees until you feel a stretch in your lower leg. Hold for 10 to 30 seconds.
  • Slowly stand up, swap leg positions and repeat.

As you perform these stretches, keep in mind these tips that can help you avoid injuries and maximize results:

  • No bouncing: Stretch in smooth, slow movements.
  • Tension—not pain: You should feel the stretch, but it shouldn’t hurt.
  • Don’t hold your breath: Breathe normally!

Fitness after 50 is possible with these 13 routines!

Do You Feel Like You Need Help With Stretching?

If you’re new to stretching and exercise, you may feel more comfortable with an expert’s guidance at first.  Consider visiting a gym that participates in Silver Sneakers or another senior fitness program.

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