Age and Flexibility
January 31, 2005 11:13 AM   Subscribe

Age and (physical) flexibility. [MI]

When I was a child I wondered why golfers used to bend at the waist with one leg stuck out behind them to pick the ball out of the hole. Now I'm in my 40s I know why: I've become much less flexible in the last few years. Bending my knees is becoming more and more difficult - there's nothing wrong with them, I'm just aware that they creak and feel kinda fiery if I squat, or walk up or down large steps. When I wake in the morning my whole body feels as stiff as cardboard.

What do AskMe's senior citizens do to maintain flexibility as they age? I'm not concerned with fitness so much. I just want to be able to get out of the car without looking like an old grandad, or pick up that ten-cent piece that I now leave alone because "the ground is too far away". I'm not into gyms or group environments.
posted by TiredStarling to Health & Fitness (11 answers total)
I'm not a senior citizen, but I swear by yoga for improved flexibility. Take a gentle yoga class at your local Y - simply dress in flexible pants and tshirt, bring some water and take a class. You will return home refreshed, renewed, and ***stretched***.

There are several types of yoga in North America - from gentle yoga for beginners, to hatha yoga (iyengar by-the-book), to hot yoga (bikram yoga is one brand thereof - 90 minutes in a 100F room, same 22 poses in the same sequence, every class) to more advanced forms of yoga such as kundalini and ashtanga.

So start with the gentle yoga, and commit to four weeks of one session a week. By March, you may feel less 'creaky' when playing golf or getting out of a car, and you will feel richer for the experience (and for the pennies that you will now be able to pick up)
posted by seawallrunner at 11:33 AM on January 31, 2005

I am not a senior citizen, but I've had a desk job for the last year and I know that feeling of waking up all achey and thinking "shouldn't I feel refreshed?" I used to do yoga, which I loved, but now that I'm a long drive to the nearest yoga location, I do a lot more regular stretching. Nothing workout-y, just a series of stretches that make sure that all my muscles that have a tendency to compress and stay that way get a bit of a breather. A good basic book on what sorts of stretches are good for what kinds of aches is just called Stretching by Bob Anderson and should be in practically any public library. They've also got a web site at which unfortunately is more of an online store than a how-to site. Here's a nifty little online book about stretching that I found that seems neat. I'll often do some of these when I'm watching a movie or the news, they're really straightforward and a lot of them you can do in street clothes.

My only other basic tip for staying limber is drinking a lot of water. I can feel my skin get all tight if I'm dehydrated, so I'm sure it's not too good for the muscles either.
posted by jessamyn at 11:42 AM on January 31, 2005 [1 favorite]

Yoga is really wonderful stuff, especially as you get older. It reduces stress, which has cardiovascular benefits, it helps with flexibility, and as it gets more difficult it can really elevate your heart rate.

However. When you take a yoga class, there will be a lot of people around you doing extremely bendy things. Ignore them. Do not push yourself to perform the same action as the people around you -- this way lies torn ligaments and lots of other baddies. As you do the poses, pay attention to how your body feels -- if that means bending a quarter-inch when everybody else has their chins on their shins, that is perfectly fine.

Find a good teacher, one who appreciates your limits and encourages you not to push them. Your body will naturally loosen with time and practice, and it will happen faster if you push it less. Honest. It's counterintuitive but true.
posted by jennyjenny at 11:48 AM on January 31, 2005

I've always been terrifically flexible but at 39 I'm starting to see the same reduction in physical ease. I try to stretch every day; I used to take yoga so my stretches are yoga-derived, and you might (since you don't like the gym) just take one month's worth of introductory classes and then if you're not loving the group thing you'll know the basic poses and can do them at home. I'd recommend against trying to learn them from books or videos or the Web; you really want a well-qualified instructor to correct your form at the beginning.
posted by nicwolff at 11:49 AM on January 31, 2005

Yoga is good (my mom who's 68 just started). I find that since I've taken up Tae Kwon Do, the stretching helps me (except lately, since I overstretched and strained a ligament).

Another factor is weight. I can speak from direct experience on that, as I started a diet for the new year and can tell a big difference in how my joints feel after losing about 10% of my body weight. It's not just a question of the weight, but how it's distributed (as any pregnant woman can verify). Losing belly weight decreases the strain on your back.
posted by Doohickie at 12:05 PM on January 31, 2005

At 40, I don't consider myself a senior citizen, but yoga is definitely the way to go. There are a ton of excellent video workouts you can do at home. If you have no background in yoga or other forms of body awareness work, you may want to take at least a few classes with a teacher to make sure you're on the right track with your technique.

Note - besides flexibility, yoga can help with muscular strength, endurance, balance, relaxation and mental focus.

Tai chi is another possibility, but that definitely requires some serious time with a good teacher to help with the technique.
posted by tdismukes at 12:35 PM on January 31, 2005

Another vote for yoga...I also say take a few classes at the beginning...if you decide you want to practice at home there are video/dvd (and I'm sure books, too) that focus specifically on flexibility. I like this one . I find my flexibility is noticeably better after a week or so of doing this every couple of days (even if I was doing a different yoga practice the week before).

In general I find that the Gaiam brand of DVDs are the ones I like best, but different people like different things.

But do take a few classes first.
posted by duck at 12:47 PM on January 31, 2005

I second the recommendation for Stretching by Bob Anderson. Simple drawings, easy to follow, good plans for various activities. He has a runner's program, cyclist's program and yes, an office worker's program.
posted by fixedgear at 1:00 PM on January 31, 2005

I'm not a senior citizen, yada yada...

...but, if you're not experienced with yoga or tai chi, I'd suggest you start out with a series of simple stretches that hit your major muscle groups. It's a less intimidating way to start off, yet it's a good workout that I do often.

I'd suggest:

The splits. Don't hurt yourself. Just put both hands on a chair to hold your weight and put your crotch down near the floor, legs spread outward--CAREFULLY. If you only get 16" from the rug, don't sweat it. You just want to feel a little stretch in your crotch.

You can also stretch your crotch by sitting on the floor, as if you're about to cross your legs, but instead put your feet together sole-to-sole. Hold your feet with your hands and press your legs outward with your elbows.

Breathe deeply whenever you stretch. Hold the stretch for a few breaths at least, or whatever feels comfortable. Try to relax your muscles even as you are stretching them.

Hurdlers stretch: You know what this is, right? you can do it on the ground (with the TV on!) or with your leg up on a chair or table. Work your head to your knee, but again, don't try too much too fast, just feel your hamstrings stretch out. You can also eventually pull your toes back and feel the stretch in your calves.

You can also stretch your back and hamstrings by standing, leaning forward and attempting to touch the ground. Swivel around to touch one foot then the other to feel the stretch across your leg muscles. It's a nice tai chi touch to follow this by standing back up, spreading your arms out to the sides and up a little, and leaning back to look at the sky. This will hit you stomach and chest as well as bending your back in the opposite direction.

The cobra: do this carefully and take it easy on your lower back. Roll your shoulders back and look at the sky. Feel the stretch in your stomach and chest and legs. This one feels good, especially if you're hunched over a desk or table or book often.

Hands and fingers: If you spend much time typing, you can bend each finger gently backwards, then bend your hand backwards, and it really takes the tension out of your hands.

Calves: you can target your calves more intensely by standing on your toes on a step and allowing your weight to push your toes up toward your legs.

I do a few other stretches for my arms chest and one or two others for my legs, but in general just a few stretches like this in succession while breathing deeply is actually a surprisingly good workout. Stretching is EXCERCISE.

Some people suggest doing a little walking or something to warm up your muscles before stretching, to avoid pulls or tears. I also like to walk or jog a little afterwards; it feels good to get the heart pumping and circulate some blood.

A basic yoga or tai chi class with a good instructor will do wonders too, of course.


Good luck! Stretching and yoga feel really good. There's nothing like that relaxed, pleasantly drowsy feeling after a good session.
posted by Shane at 1:15 PM on January 31, 2005

My dad's about 64 and had sore knees, some bursitis, and inflexibility. He started Aikido, and after a bit of a curve at first, he swears by it--says all the aches and pains are going away. Aikido has a lot of kneeling and rolling with some stretching.

I'm not necessarily saying that Aikido's the only cure or anything, just that there seems to be almost a "use it or lose it" thing going on. There's lots of anecdotal evidence that suggests that older people can, with persistance, be able to move less painfully by just working through the pain of the motion for a while. At least, it seems that way to me. Note there's a line between pain and PAIN, if you get my drift.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 9:59 PM on January 31, 2005

...there seems to be almost a "use it or lose it" thing going on.

"Moving hinges never rust."

"Running water never dirty."

-Mr. Huang (tai chi instructor and senior citizen who could effortlessly pick me up and toss me on my ass.)
posted by Shane at 5:25 AM on February 1, 2005

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