A pull in your shoulder, a crick in your neck—these aches can come and go. But as you age, your muscles have more of a tendency to compress and weaken, causing such bouts of pain to arise more often and last longer. You may think this discomfort—and the limitations that can come with it—are just the price of aging; we all know someone with a “bad back,” for example. But it doesn’t have to be. You can play a part in helping make movements that are easy today stay that way by keeping your muscles active, strong and loose. Strength-training moves are an important part of that, but so is regular stretching. Not only do stretching exercises increase blood flow to your muscles and prevent everyday aches, but they may also help ward off conditions like bone spurs, arthritis and sciatica (lower back pain).
Take a few minutes each day to do these easy, gentle stretches. Consider it an investment for a pain-free tomorrow.
Moves to Prevent Back Pain
- Knees to Chest
This releases muscle tension in your lower back and pelvis; these areas often tighten up because of the time we spend sitting.
Lie on your back on a cushioned surface, such as a rug or yoga mat, with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Reach down with both hands and grasp your right shin, just below your knee. Pull your knee toward your chest. Hold for 15 seconds, repeat on the other side and then try it with both knees at the same time. Repeat the entire sequence three times.
This movement helps strengthen your back muscles and keep your spine aligned—an important adjustment since everyday positions, like hunching over your desk, can promote poor posture that can lead to pain.
On a cushioned surface, start on your hands and knees, both shoulder-width apart. Take a deep breath and, as you exhale, round your back toward the ceiling. Drop your head, pointing your chin toward your chest (cat pose). Then, inhale and slowly lift your head as you pass through your starting position and move into a deeper, inverted arch (cow pose). Maintain an upward gaze. Alternate poses in a smooth rhythm for about a minute, letting your deep breaths guide your movements.
Moves to Prevent Headaches and Neck Pain
- Side Stretch
This stretch not only relieves a stiff neck but also lengthens your neck muscles, which can shorten over time from daily habits like holding the phone up to your ear with your shoulder.
While standing or sitting up straight, tilt your head to the right so your ear moves closer to your shoulder. For a deeper stretch, place your right hand on your left temple and gently apply pressure. Hold for 15 seconds before slowly returning to center. Repeat three times on each side, making sure not to raise your shoulder to meet your ear.
- Diagonal Stretch
This unique movement keeps muscles loose by stretching the back of your neck—a key place where tension headaches often originate.
While standing or sitting up straight, turn your head slightly as if starting to shake "no." Then lower your chin, feeling the stretch in the back of your neck. Hold for 15 seconds before lifting up and returning to center. Repeat three times on each side.
Moves to Prevent Hip and Knee Pain
- Seated Rotation Stretch
You’ll feel this stretch in your buttocks and your iliotibal band—the long muscle that runs along the outside of your entire leg—which supports your hip, thigh and knee and can easily stiffen while you’re driving the car or working at the computer.
Sit up straight on the floor with your legs extended out in front of you. Bend your right leg and cross it over the top of your left, bringing your right foot to the outside of your left knee. Twist to your right, reaching your left elbow to the outside of your right knee and your right hand to the back of your seat, for balance. Hold for 15 seconds and gently release. Repeat three times on each side.
- Hamstring Stretch
Incorporate this stretch into your daily routine to keep your hamstrings limber, which helps prevent triggering pain in your hips and knees. If you run and bike often, your hamstrings definitely deserve some extra attention.
Lie on your back on a cushioned surface, with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Lift one leg off the floor and bring your knee toward your chest, reaching around and clasping your hands around your thigh, beneath your knee. (You can also loop a towel around your thigh if you have trouble reaching your hands.) Straighten your leg, pointing your heel to the ceiling, and pull your leg toward your head, feeling the stretch up and down the back of your leg. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat three times on each side.