Losing joint and muscle flexibility is a change that comes with ageing. Moreover, as people grow older, they also tend to become less physically active. “Flexibility is important for the elderly because it [is closely linked] to strength, balance, and movement,” said Ms Goh Shu Kin, Physiotherapist, Physiotherapy Department, Singapore General Hospital (SGH).
When muscles and joints lack the necessary range of motions to counteract imbalance, the risk of a fall increases. The good news: just five to 10 minutes of daily stretching exercises can help improve flexibility and reduce the chance of falls. It also alleviates chronic aches.
“Our body is meant to move.
So when it remains in any
position for a long time, the
muscles, bones, and joints will get uncomfortable. Stretching involves active movement to consciously bring the person back into a more comfortable position and reduce slouching,” said Ms Goh.
For those with arthritis, exercise can ease joint stiffness and discomfort by improving the joint’s range of motions.
Research shows that exercise in general reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, lung diseases, diabetes, and dementia — conditions associated with ageing. Exercise also improves mental agility and emotional health.
“The majority of [my] patients do not meet the World Health Organization’s (WHO) guideline of doing 150 minutes of moderateintensity exercise each week. They are concerned about the risk of injury when exercising but tend to overlook the health benefits,” she noted.
Two simple rules of thumb to avoid injury is proper pacing and breathing. Seniors should understand their health condition and avoid over-exertion. They should also avoid holding their breath while exercising, as this may result in a drastic change in blood pressure and cause dizziness, among other symptoms.
Ms Goh recommends six safe stretching exercises for the elderly, and also emphasises the importance of complementing them with other strengthening, balance training, and coordination exercises to meet WHO’s recommendation.
Repeat each of these exercises five times, holding each stretch for 10 to 30 seconds.
These exercises help keep your neck, shoulders, back, trunk, knees, and lower limb flexible, and reduce aches.