Daily Stretching Routine for Seniors


Tight muscles, stiff joints, and aches and pains—aging can take a toll on your body, but the good news is that stretching can help you feel better.

Research indicates that stretching improves flexibility, promotes balance, and has the power to reduce pain or stress. Additionally, stretches that focus on posture and mobility can support daily activities and limit your risk of falling or injury.

Check out these ten easy stretches for seniors and use them to get moving in a safe way. Please be sure to get approval from your doctor before performing any of the below stretches.

Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch

“One of my top stretches for seniors is the hip flexor stretch because most of us spend a lot of time sitting down either in an office or at home,” says Rob Jackson, a personal trainer at London-based Minimal FIT. “This shortens the hip flexor muscles. Stretching out this area helps with posture, spine alignment, and maintenance of a good walking or running stride.”

How to do this stretch:

  • Kneel down on the floor on both knees. (Modification tip: You can kneel on a rolled-up blanket or towel if the floor hurts your knees or you’re recovering from a knee injury.)
  • Step your right foot forward and keep it flat on the floor.
  • Your right knee will be at a 90-degree angle, while your left shin is on the floor behind you with your foot stretched out.
  • Sink your body down while keeping both hands on your right knee.
  • Move your right foot farther forward to increase the stretch, and continue to sink down.
  • Maintain an upright body position, and engage your ab muscles.
  • Feel the stretch on your left hip, left quad (front of upper leg), and maybe your right hamstring (back of the upper leg and glute area).

Hold this stretch for 15-30 seconds, and then switch legs. To deepen the stretch, take deep breaths and relax on every exhalation.

Calf Stretch

“Ever feel like the back of your ankle is so tight that it becomes hard for you to squat down without losing your balance?” asks Dr. Fei Jiang, a physical therapist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center Performance Therapy in Santa Monica, California.

If so, here’s a great stretch to address calf tightness that can be done against a wall.

How to do this stretch:

  • Begin in a standing position facing a wall, and place your hands on the wall.
  • Put one leg behind you with the knee straight, and keep the other leg in front with the knee bent.
  • Keep your hips and feet pointing straight forward, with both heels down.
  • Lean toward the wall until you feel a stretch in your back lower leg and front of the hip.

Hold for 30 seconds, and then repeat three times per side.

Seated Shoulder Stretch

According to personal trainer Becky Behling, shoulders are easily injured with age, and older adults often experience tight, weak muscles in the front of the chest and the back. She loves stretching this part of the body and offers an exercise that can be done standing or from a chair or seated position.

How to do this stretch, from a chair:

  • Scoot to the front edge of your seat, and reach your hands behind to hook your fingers around the chair.
  • Use your hands to anchor this stretch—the more you move forward (away from your hands), the more intense the stretch. If your shoulders are very stiff and/or injured, this can be done one side at a time.
  • To challenge the stretch, slide your hands higher on the chair edges. Depending on shoulder mobility and height of the back of the chair, it may be possible to bring your hands to the top of the chair.

Repeat movements a few times, taking care to avoid pain in the shoulder area.

Seated Hamstring Stretch

“One of the culprits of sitting too much is the development of tight hamstrings, which can cause lower back pain with bending forward and poor posture with standing,” Dr. Jiang says. “The good news is that stretching the hamstrings is simple  and can be done just about anywhere.”

How to do this stretch:

  • Begin by sitting on a chair or bench.
  • Bring one leg straight in front, keeping your foot on the ground.
  • Maintain hips facing forward.
  • With a straight back, slowly lean forward from the hips until you feel a stretch in the back of the leg.

Hold for 30 seconds, and repeat three times per side.

Chest Stretches

If your chest or front shoulder muscles often feel tight, or your shoulders or upper back frequently feel rounded forward, then try these two stretches for seniors from a seated or standing position, notes Debra Atkinson, fitness professional and founder of Flipping 50.

How to do the first stretch:

  • From a seated or standing posture, put your fingertips close to your ears, and attempt to make elbows touch behind your head. (Hint: It’s not going to happen!)

How to do the second stretch:

  • Stand facing a wall, with your hands on the wall at about waist height. (Modification tip: You can also use a countertop.)
  • Move your feet far enough away so that your weight can go to your heels, not the balls of your feet.
  • Keep your hips slightly behind your feet as you stretch your arms out straight, similar to the position of a downward-facing dog in yoga.

Hold each one for 15 seconds, and release. Repeat two to three times.

Alternating Arm Reaches

“Having good posture not only makes you look better but also improves your balance and decreases neck pain,” Dr. Jiang says. “Poor posture is often the result of chest muscle tightness and upper back weakness, so look for stretches that help you ‘stand up taller.’”

How to do this stretch:

  • Sit tall in a chair or stand with your hips and upper back against the wall.
  • Slightly tuck your chin, and reach the top of your head toward the ceiling.
  • With straight elbows, reach up with one arm, attempting to bring it back past the ears.
  • Reach up until you feel a stretch in the front of your chest and upper back.

Hold for five seconds, and then put down your arm and repeat with the opposite arm. Do two rounds of ten sets per side.

Seated Spinal Stretch

“By the time a person becomes an octogenarian, spinal mobility has declined 25 percent in flexion, 33 percent in lateral flexion, and up to 50 percent in extension,” Behling says. “The outcomes of such decreases include pain, joint wear and tear, loss of muscle optimization, challenged mobility, and greater risk of tripping or falling.” As a result, spine stretches for seniors are key to health.

How to do this stretch:

  • From a seated position, cup your knees with the palms of your hands to create traction.
  • Round through your spine, float your chin toward your throat (not your chest), and rock toward the back of your “sit” bones.
  • Lengthen and widen your back in every direction, side-to-side, head-to-tail, and in a diagonal or spiral movement (e.g., from one sit bone toward your opposite shoulder or lengthening into the diagonal and returning).
  • Come back to upright sitting.
  • Arch your spine while releasing and widening your shoulders/chest to lift your sternum (breastbone) and face fully upward. Feel that you are now sitting forward on the sit bones.
  • Come back to upright sitting, and repeat from the beginning to move from rounded to arched position.

Repeat as many times as comfortable.

Standing Side Reach

Tasks such as grabbing objects from a high shelf at home or the grocery store can be challenging, Dr. Jiang says, because they require shoulder and trunk flexibility as well as good balance. Practicing a standing side stretch can help you reach higher surfaces easier.

How to do this stretch:

  • Sit tall in a chair or stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart and knees slightly bent.
  • Reach up and out toward the same side while shifting weight to the leg of the same side, as if you’re reaching up to grab an object.
  • While maintaining good balance, reach out until you feel a stretch on the side of your trunk.

Hold for five seconds, and then return to the starting position and repeat with the opposite arm. Do two rounds of ten sets per side.

Hip and Back Stretches

Though there are all kinds of ways to stretch your hips and back, Atkinson recommends two particular stretches for seniors who are able to get to the floor or a firm surface. These are passive, static stretches, so let gravity do most of the work. (Modification tip: You can prop pillows under your legs to reduce the intensity.)

How to do the first stretch:

  • Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
  • Cross your right leg over the left as if you’re sitting in a chair with legs crossed.
  • Lift your hips and move them to the right a few inches before setting back down.
  • Open your arms out to the right and left, and attempt to keep your upper back on the floor.
  • Allow your legs to fall to the left, and let your hips and lower back relax. Repeat on the other side.

How to do the second stretch:

  • Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
  • Widen your feet to a yoga-mat-width apart.
  • Allow both of your knees to fall to the left side.
  • Try to keep your upper back and shoulder blades down.
  • If this is enough and you’re feeling a stretch, stop. If you need more stretch, place your left ankle on top of your right knee, hold, and then repeat on the other side.

Hold and breathe from each stretch for up to a minute.

Arm Across Chest Reach

“Being able to twist from your trunk not only helps you with dance moves but also increases the ease with the following functional movements: rolling over in bed, grabbing your seat belt, reaching across the table, and swinging arms as you walk,” Dr. Jiang explains.

How to do this stretch:

  • Sit tall in a chair or stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart and knees slightly bent.
  • Reach horizontally across your chest while twisting from the upper trunk.
  • While maintaining good balance, reach until you feel a stretch through the upper back.

Hold for five seconds, and then return to starting position and repeat with the opposite arm. Do two rounds of ten sets per side.

New Mexico Orthopaedics is a multi-disciplinary orthopaedic clinic located in Albuquerque New Mexico. We have multiple physical therapy clinics located throughout the Albuquerque metro area.

New Mexico Orthopaedics offers a full spectrum of services related to orthopaedic care and our expertise ranges from acute conditions such as sports injuries and fractures to prolonged, chronic care diagnoses, including total joint replacement and spinal disorders.

Because our team of highly-trained physicians specialize in various aspects of the musculoskeletal system, our practice has the capacity to treat any orthopaedic condition, and offer related support services, such as physical therapy, WorkLink and much more.

If you need orthopedic care in Albuquerque New Mexico contact New Mexico Orthopaedics at 505-724-4300.