Renew You Challenge: Loosen up your tight muscles

4 gentle moves to help ease tension and improve your range of motion.

Lou Schuler, CSCS
Woman stretching her arms

The Renew You Challenge is the newest health and wellness experience from Renew by UnitedHealthcare® to help inspire you to take charge of your well-being every day. Every weekday in October, we’re sharing new ideas to help build up your body, mind and spirit.

 

You walk and swim to help your heart, and strength train to help build muscle and protect your bones. But is that enough?

Not quite. Stretching is an essential, yet often overlooked, part of a complete fitness routine, notes the American Council on Exercise (ACE). It’s one of those things that most of us know we should be doing but find it all too easy to skip.

The problem with that line of thinking, however, is that our bodies really need us to loosen up as we get older. We tend to lose some of our natural flexibility as the birthdays pile up, explains Robert Linkul, C.S.C.S, a certified personal trainer who specializes in training older adults. Part of this is due to the normal aging process, says Linkul. But inactivity also comes into play. Less activity tends to equate to less flexibility.

When you lose some of your natural ability to move freely, says Linkul, you’re more likely to struggle with daily activities — or even experience some pain and tension with certain movements. You may even be setting yourself up for injury. 

On the other hand, he says, a good daily stretch session can help:

  • Make everyday movements easier
  • Improve range of motion and posture
  • Release muscle tension and soreness
  • Lower the risk of injury
  • Promote mental relaxation

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The idea behind flexibility training, says Linkul, is to lengthen the muscles that have been stuck in shortened positions during stationary activities, like sitting. Stretches can also help lubricate your joints, promote circulation, increase blood flow to your muscles and prepare your body for all that you want it to do in a day, he says. 

4 Stretches to Do Every Day 

Like so many aspects of health and fitness, all stretches are not created equal. Linkul says that many conventional stretches that you probably did as a younger adult — think the runner’s stretch, or hamstring and quadriceps stretches — aren’t the safest for older adults. Instead, he suggests these more gentle and purposeful movements.

To get the most benefit, hold each stretch for 5 to 8 seconds. Then release the stretch and repeat the movement 8 to 10 times. That said, let your body be your guide and don’t stretch to the point of pain. The American Heart Association offers these stretching tips:

  • Relax and breathe normally during the stretch.
  • Move slowly and smoothly — no jerking or bouncing to get into the stretch.
  • Stretch until you feel a gentle pull, and not beyond.
  • Keep your joints slightly bent, never “locked” in a straight position.

If you’re new to exercise, or coming back from an injury or surgery, remember to get your doctor’s OK before starting any new exercise routine, including stretches.

Stretch #1: Standing Rotation

  • Stand near a wall with your left side close to the wall. Place both hands on the wall at shoulder height, about shoulder-width apart.
  • Stagger your feet so your left leg is in front of your right and point your hips and feet slightly to the right. 
  • Turn your torso to the right until you feel a stretch in your left shoulder. This is a very subtle rotation.
  • Hold for 5 to 8 seconds.
  • Switch your feet, so your right foot is in front of the left, and your hips and feet now point slightly to the left.
  • Turn your torso to the left until you feel a stretch in your right shoulder.
  • Hold 5 to 8 seconds, then release.
  • Repeat on both sides 4 to 5 times.

Stretch #2: Hinge and Reach

  • Stand facing a table, counter or sturdy piece of furniture with your feet hip-width apart.
  • Bend forward at the hips (not your waist) and place your hands on the table. Your arms should be straight.
  • Push your hips back and lower your shoulders until you feel a stretch in your back and torso.
  • If you straighten your legs (without locking your knees) you will also feel a stretch in the back of your legs. Just be careful to keep your back flat and stop if you feel any discomfort in your lower back.
  • Hold 5 to 8 seconds, then release. 
  • Repeat 8 to 10 times.

Stretch #3: Over-and-Under Shoulder Reach

  • Stand or sit tall and reach behind your head and down your back with your right arm. 
  • Reach behind your waist and up your back with your left arm. This is a gentle stretch — your hands don’t have to meet in the middle of your back. Also, don’t lean back or strain your shoulders in an effort to increase the range of motion — just reach as far as you comfortably can.
  • Hold for 5 to 8 seconds, then release
  • Switch arm positions and repeat.
  • Do 4 to 5 stretches on each side.

Stretch #4: Achilles Tendon Stretch 

  • Stand facing a wall and place both hands on the wall at shoulder height, about shoulder-width apart.
  • Stagger your feet so your right foot is in front of your left foot, and your hips and feet point toward the wall.
  • Keep your left heel flat on the floor and push your hips forward until you feel a stretch in your left heel and calf.
  • Hold for 5 to 8 seconds, then release
  • Switch legs and repeat.
  • Do 4 to 5 stretches on each side.

Give Our Functional Fitness Workout a Go 
The Train Your Body for Life Workout includes five no-nonsense functional exercises that can help rev up your energy and help build more strength and stamina. To find it, sign into your plan website and go to Health & Wellness. Then type Renew You Challenge into the search bar. Not a member? Learn more here.

 

Catch up with the Renew You Challenge:

Download your Renew You Challenge calendar

Day 1: Strengthen Your Core

Day 2: Eat More Real Food Today

Day 3: Do These 6 Important Health Checks

Day 4: Help Your Hips

Day 5: Reframe a Negative Thought

Day 6: Help Improve Your Posture

Day 7: Create a Wish List

Day 8: Check Your Heart Health in 60 Seconds

Day 9: Help Prevent Falls

Day 10: Give Your Brain a Workout

Day 11: Tone Your Upper Body

Day 12: Have a 10% Less Day

Day 13: Give Yourself a Massage

Day 14: Strengthen Your Total Body

Day 15: Have a Different Conversation — With Yourself