Aging may affect a person’s mobility. Motions such as getting out of a chair or walking around the house may take longer and cause more discomfort and stiffness. Stretching can play an important role in healthy aging and quality of life.

Research from 2022 concluded that adults over 55 years find that they can move the joints in their arms and legs roughly 6 degrees less than before and that people have less flexibility with every passing decade.

Stretching may help older adults improve their mobility as they age. This is because it increases muscle flexibility and improves the ranges of motion.

This article details five stretches seniors can practice and discusses the benefits of stretching and how to do them safely.

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For older adults, stretching can help smooth out important daily motions such as rotating the neck to check for traffic while reversing in a car or reaching down to tie shoelaces.

According to an older 2012 paper, different stretches involving static stretching can help seniors improve spinal mobility and gait. This type of stretching involves a person extending a muscle as far as they can and holding that final position for around 15–30 seconds.

Stretching should form one part of an approach to physical exercise in later life, along with:

  • endurance exercises such as jogging, brisk walking, or dancing
  • resistance training, such as lightweight lifting
  • balance exercises such as tai chi
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An older 2011 study found that stretching out the back can help older adults reduce back pain and improve movement in the back. The risk of back pain increases with age, affecting around 45.6% of people over 65 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Back stretches can help make motions such as bending down to pick up an object easier — anything that puts pressure on the back.

The following is a gentle, seated back stretch that can account for reduced balance and stability while improving flexibility in the spine.

This exercise requires a chair with arms.

  1. Sit in a chair with both feet flat on the floor.
  2. Place the left hand toward the back of the left arm of the chair, with the elbow pointing upward at a comfortable right angle.
  3. Put the right hand on the left knee.
  4. Gently twist to the left, stopping at the furthest point of the most.
  5. Hold the stretch for 10–30 seconds, breathing deeply and relaxing into the stretch.
  6. Repeat this 3–5 times.
  7. Switch to the other side.
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The following inner thigh stretch may help loosen up the muscles that support getting up from the floor.

  1. Start in a lying down position on your back.
  2. Have the knees in a relaxed bent position, pointing upward with both feet flat on the floor. Both arms should be straight by your side, palms facing down.
  3. Slowly move the right knee to the floor, keeping the knee bent. Hold the stretch for 10–30 seconds.
  4. Repeat the same leg movement on the other side.
  5. Repeat this 3–5 times for each leg.
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Falls become more likely for older adults. An older 2013 review found that foot and ankle exercise can help older adults reduce their risk of falling. Ankle stretches may also help the ankles feel less stiff on getting out of bed in the morning.

This exercise needs a robust chair with no arms.

  1. Sit toward the front of the chair.
  2. Have the legs out straight in front and the heels on the floor. The toes should start pointing upward in a natural, relaxed position.
  3. Gently move the left ankle toward the floor as far as feels comfortable, pointing the toes.
  4. Hold for 10–30 seconds, then return the foot to the starting position.
  5. Repeat the motion with the other foot.
  6. Repeat this 3–5 times on each side or foot.

A person can also do this move with both feet at the same time for a double-leg ankle stretch.

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During aging, the hamstrings in the back of the leg lose muscle mass and become stiffer, according to a 2018 study. Given their vital role in walking and gait, older adults can protect their mobility by stretching their hamstrings and keeping them flexible.

This stretch can help loosen up the hamstrings. A chair may be helpful for getting to the floor.

  1. Safely and slowly get to the floor to lie down, using a chair if it helps. Take it one knee at a time. The starting position involves laying on your back with both legs and arms flat on the floor.
  2. Bring the right leg into a bent knee position, placing the foot flat on the floor.
  3. Slowly bring the left leg upward, keeping it as straight as possible.
  4. The leg will naturally bend slightly as it raises. Grab the leg behind the calf muscle, gently pulling until you can feel a slight tension.
  5. Hold the stretch for 10–30 seconds, breathing deeply to relax.
  6. Slowly bring the leg back down into a straight position.
  7. Repeat 3–5 times before moving on to the other leg.
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Neck flexibility is central to looking around while crossing the road and driving. The following exercise can help loosen the neck. This can take place in a seated or standing position.

  1. Relax the shoulders. The “start” position is with the head upright.
  2. During every step, breathe deeply and relax into it.
  3. The first movement is to slowly drop the head forward until you feel a slight tension in the back of the neck. Hold this for 15–30 seconds.
  4. Bring the head back to the “start” position.
  5. Repeat this, but slowly move the right ear to the right shoulder. Return to the “start” position.
  6. Do the same for the left side.
  7. Repeat the whole stretch 3–4 times.

It is important not to pull on the neck with the hands and only to move in the specified directions. Otherwise, this risks damage to the arteries in the back of the neck.

Those with arthritis should be careful about moving slowly, as rapid movements may cause dizziness.

Older adults should try to have a dedicated stretching session 2–3 times every week.

Warming up the muscles before stretching can help older adults avoid injury. It is best to stretch after endurance or strength exercises.

However, those looking to stretch out tightness or aches outside of physical activity can do some light walking to prime the muscles before loosening up.

Learn more about daily stretching routines.

Certain measures can help an older adult stay safe and get the full benefit of stretching, including:

  • Refraining from overstretching: A stretch should involve obvious tension but not hurt. If a stretch becomes painful, a person should ease off.
  • Breathing regularly: People should avoid straining or holding their breath. Regular breathing allows for smooth, natural motion.
  • Consulting with a doctor: Those who have recently had surgery, live with a health condition, or have concerns about a specific exercise could benefit from speaking with their doctor before stretching.

Stretching 2–3 times per week is an important part of maintaining flexibility and stability as an older adult. A range of stretches for the neck, back, arms, legs, and chest can help daily function, preserve independence, and reduce falls.

However, it is important to approach each stretch gently, breathe as usual, and do so after warming up the muscles with endurance or strength-building activities. Anyone who has had recent surgery or has health concerns should speak with a doctor before attempting certain stretches.