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Better Stretch Options for Older Adults

Teach these alternatives to common flexibility moves.

Chest opener stretch

No doubt you want to select the most functional, effective, helpful exercises possible, especially for older-adults.  This priority extends to any stretches you integrate into a workout. After at least five, and perhaps as many as nine, decades of forward rounding, do older exercisers really need more of the same? Instead, help them open up and counteract any closing-off effects from the lives they’ve led.

Avoid the Hunch

Stretches to avoid


While universal and popular, the stretches shown above actually create more “hunch” and spinal curvature, increase rounded shoulder syndrome, and contribute to problematic posture overall. These common moves may be safe, but are they useful? Besides being unhelpful for older adults, they exacerbate postural problems in all populations.

Open Up!

Seek opportunities to open and expand the front of the body. In lieu of the three exercises shown above, substitute stretches that will help your older attendees improve posture and spinal alignment. Adopting this simple change will make sense once you consider where people are already elongated or overstretched and where they are tight.

Backward Shoulder Roll

Three Counteracting Stretches

Backward shoulder roll:

  • Stand tall, gazing forward or down.
  • Inhale: Squeeze shoulder blades together.
  • Exhale: Roll shoulder blades back and down toward spine.
  • Repeat, making sure shoulders go back and down, not up and forward.


Chest opener:

Chest opener stretch

  • Bring hands up alongside ears, fingers lightly touching side of head.
  • Inhale: Lift chest to prepare.
  • Exhale: Engage core and move elbows back and away.
  • Return to start and repeat.


Front Deltoid Stretch


Front deltoid and pec stretch:

  • Stand tall, in neutral alignment.
  • Place hands on lower back, fingers down, as if sliding hands into back pockets.
  • Inhale to prepare. Exhale: Gently squeeze elbows toward the spine.
  • Release and repeat.

Your class members will thank you for offering them stretches that help them end their class lifted in both mood and body!

See also: Sample Class: Seated Exercises for Older Adults

Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA

Kymberly Williams-Evans, PhD (ABD) has been a fitness professional on four continents, in four languages, for four decades on land, at sea and across the airwaves. After years of co-hosting an online radio program (Active Aging for BoomChickaBoomers), she reports having interviewed scads of great guests and two really bad ones.

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