Seniors: Warm Up And Stretch Your Way to a Longer, Healthier Life
Studies show that physical activity slows the aging process and increases seniors’ life span. The positive health effects of exercise go deep, down to the cellular level.
To reap these benefits for as long as possible—without being exiled to the couch by an exercise-induced injury—active seniors should adopt a routine that gently prepares their body for the increased demand of an activity or exercise. Whether you plan to walk, work in the garden or wash the car, always warm up and stretch beforehand. And do it in that order: warm up, then stretch. Like cold taffy that snaps when pulled, muscles that are not sufficiently warmed up before exercise or physical activity can suffer painful injury.
The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS) explains that a good warm-up prepares a person’s body for more intense activity. A warm-up increases the breathing rate and blood flow and warms the muscles.
Warm Up to Physical Activity
Warming up for an aerobic activity, like walking, bicycling or raking leaves, is as simple as starting out at an easy pace, then gradually increasing speed. The length of your warm-up depends on your fitness level. Aerobic activities increase your breathing and heart rate and a warm up starts the process gradually and safely. Aerobic activities may include brisk walking, dancing, yard work, swimming or water aerobics, climbing stairs, playing tennis or biking.
Follow the warm-up with a few minutes of stretching to further improve performance. On its website, the AAOS provides advice on safe exercising including recommended stretches for seniors. And a cooldown at the end of exercise is just as important. It gives your body time to recover. For instance, at the end of a walk, slow your pace to allow your breathing and heart rate a chance to return to normal.
Then while your muscles are still warm, stretch. Stretching not only reduces the risk of injury, it also helps increase flexibility, range of motion and ability to get around and accomplish the tasks of daily living. Here are a few guidelines for stretching:
- Stretch slowly and gently. Breathe into the stretch to avoid muscle tension and relax and hold each stretch 10 to 30 seconds
- Do not bounce your stretch as this can cause injury
- Stretching should not hurt. If you feel pain, take the stretch easier, breathe deeply and relax into it
Regular physical activity and exercise are recommended for everyone, including seniors, to maintain optimal health and physical functioning.
Recommended Amounts Of Exercise
The National Institute on Aging of the National Institutes of Health offers the following exercise recommendations in its online publication, “NIH Senior Health: Exercise and Physical Activity for Older Adults”:
- Get at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, such as walking or water aerobics, on most or all days of the week. It is ok to stretch this exercise out during the day in three 10-minute periods.
- Strength exercises, such as lifting hand weights or using weight machines, should be done two or more days a week for 30 minutes each, to exercise all the major muscle groups. However, do not exercise the same muscle group two days in a row.
Low impact exercises are best for seniors, such as walking, water aerobics, yoga, tai chi and Pilates. Group exercise, available at senior centers, churches, community centers and fitness centers, is an excellent option as it provides seniors an opportunity to socialize with others. Prior to starting any exercise regime, seniors should consultant their physician.