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Seated Flexibility Exercises for Seniors

Flexibility is an Important Component to Physical Health at Every Age and Ability Level

As we age, daily activities like standing up from a chair and getting in and out of bed can become increasingly difficult. Decreases in muscle mass, muscle strength, flexibility, and lubrication of our joints are a natural part of aging and generally the cause behind these limitations. But, that doesn’t mean we must accept limited mobility as our fate. Even for seniors who are recovering from injuries, or who are restricted to a wheelchair, there are a lot of exercises that can help maintain flexibility and strength.

Flexibility is the ability of the muscles and tendons to lengthen and stretch in response to movement, and allow joints to move through a full range of motion. In addition to being a necessary component to day-to-day life, maintaining good flexibility through stretching can reduce the symptoms of arthritis and relieve lower back pain, reduce the risk of falling, support good posture, and improve circulation. 

Flexibility and Strength Training Go Hand in Hand

Research shows that strength training coupled with stretching exercises is the most effective way to improve flexibility. Stretching supports muscle strength, improves flexibility and range of motion, and increases circulation and blood flow. When combined with resistance training, stretching can help keep joints flexible, making it easier to comfortably perform the activities that fill our days.

For older adults with mobility and balance issues, and those recovering from surgery or injury, or those restricted to a wheelchair, building strength and flexibility is a challenge. After all, when your range of motion is severely limited, so are your number of exercise options.

In situations where standing exercises are simply not possible, seated workouts are essential.

An effective, whole-body seated workout includes movements designed to increase mobility, support cardio fitness, improve muscular strength, and expand flexibility. These 8 seated strength-training exercises are an effective way to increase whole-body strength through resistance training. When coupled with the following flexibility exercises, they are an effective way to support the independence of wheelchair bound seniors and improve daily life.

Each of the following exercises should be performed in a full range of motion to maximize gains in flexibility and reduce the risk of injury. It’s important to note that intense stretching designed to increase flexibility should follow resistance training, because some studies have shown that intense stretching before resistance training can decrease our ability to train with high-intensity. 

8 Whole Body Seated Stretching Exercises for Seniors 

The Upper Back and Chest Stretch

  1. Sit up straight, but try to keep your shoulders relaxed. 
  2. Extend arms forward, straight out in front of you at shoulder height. Link fingers together and turn your hands out so that your palms are facing away from you. Push your hands away from you while rounding your upper back and shoulders. 
  3. Hold for 10 - 20 seconds and release.
  4. Unlink your fingers and put your arms behind you with your palms face down on the seat of the chair right behind your buttocks.
  5. Press down with your hands while pulling your shoulders back. Hold for 10 – 15 seconds and release.
  6. Repeat steps 1-5 three to six times. 

Whole Back and Neck Stretch
*For seniors with very limited mobility and balance, this exercise should be performed with a spotter. 

  1. Scoot to the edge of your chair and extend your legs forward with your knees slightly bent. Keep your heels on the floor and flex your toes up toward the ceiling.
  2. Extend both arms out in front of you, then bend forward at the waist to reach your fingers towards your toes. Reach as far as you can and hold for 10 seconds. Slowly return to the starting position, placing your hands on your knees.
  3. Slowly tilt your head to your right shoulder while extending your left arm out and down, raising it no higher than waist level. Repeat this motion on the left side. 
  4. Repeat steps 1-3 three to six times.

Shoulder Circles and Hand Stretches

  1. Sit up straight, but try to keep your shoulders relaxed.
  2. Circle your shoulders 10 times forwards, then 10 times backwards.
  3. Reach your hands out in front of you at shoulder height, palms facing down. 
  4. Open both hands to spread your fingers apart as far as you can, then close your hands into fists. Repeat 10 times.
  5. Repeat steps 1-4 three to six times. 

Overhead Side Stretch

  1. Sit up straight, but try to keep your shoulders relaxed.
  2. Raise both arms straight up into the air, above your head.
  3. Grab your right wrist with your left hand and gently pull the right hand up while leaning to the left at the waist very slightly. While you do this, concentrate on pushing your right buttock down against the seat of the chair. Hold for 10 seconds, then return to a vertical position.
  4. Grab your left wrist with your right hand and repeat the stretch on the other side, pulling your left hand up and leaning at the waist very slightly to the right while pushing your left buttock down against the seat of the chair. Hold for 10 seconds, then return to a vertical position.
  5. Repeat steps 3-4 three to six times.

Spine Twist

  1. Sit up straight, but try to keep your shoulders relaxed. 
  2. Cross your arms over your chest and slowly twist the upper body at the waist to one side. Keep the rest of your body stationary while you twist. Hold for 10 seconds, then return to center. Repeat motion by twisting to the other side, hold 10 seconds, and return to center.
  3. Repeat steps 1-2 three to six times.

Tricep Stretch

  1. Sit up straight in a chair, but try to keep your shoulders relaxed.
  2. Extend your left arm straight in front of you with the palm facing up. Slowly raise your arm up over your head so that you are touching the top of your shoulder or upper back.
  3. Use your right hand to press on your left elbow, pressing the elbow back until you feel a good stretch. Hold for 10 seconds then release the arm.
  4. Repeat with the right arm.
  5. Repeat steps 1-4 three to six times.

Back of Thigh and Ankle Stretch
*For seniors with very limited mobility and balance, this exercise should be performed with a spotter. 

  1. Scoot to the edge of your chair with both hands gripping the sides of the chair seat for support. Extend your right leg straight out in front of you, keeping your heel on the ground and flexing your toes towards the ceiling.
  2. Slowly bend forward at the hip as far as you can, keeping your back straight. Hold for 10 seconds. 
  3. Return to an upright position and, keeping your hands gripping the sides of the chair seat, raise the right foot so that it’s a few inches off the floor. Slowly circle your ankle in one direction, then in the other direction. Lower the foot back to the floor. 
  4. Repeat steps 1-3 with the left leg, alternating the entire sequence between both legs for a total of three to six times on each side.

Seated Lifts
*For seniors with very limited mobility and balance, this exercise should be performed with a spotter. 

  1. Sit up straight in a chair, but try to keep your shoulders relaxed. Place your hands at your sides and grip the sides of the chair seat.
  2. Raise you right knee so that your foot is about 12 inches off the floor; keep your knee bent at a 90 degree angle.
  3. Twist at the hips, reaching your right knee towards your left side, raising your right buttock up off the chair. Hold for 10 seconds then release back to the starting position.
  4. Repeat the motion with the other leg.
  5. Repeat steps 1-4 for a total of three to six times.

Functional training, stretching, and strength training work better together.

Regular stretching is especially useful when it’s one part of a holistic training plan that also involves balance training, strength training, and cardio exercises. From the day we are born, our bodies need to move. As we age, remaining active is more important than ever. Regular strength training and flexibility exercises keep muscles, bones, and joints strong and pliable so that older adults can fill their days with the things they love the most.

Learn more about HUR's strength training solutions

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