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10 great flexibility exercises and stretches

Patsy Westcott / 25 April 2017 ( 12 March 2021 )

Feeling a little stiff? Try these easy stretching exercises to improve flexibility and stay supple.

Exercises to stay supple. Illustrations by Jessie Ford for Saga Magazine, May 2017
Exercises to stay supple. Illustrations by Jessie Ford for Saga Magazine, May 2017

Stretching exercises such as neck rolls, cat stretches and hamstring stretches can all help improve muscular flexibility, making activities that require flexibility - such as gardening, dancing or playing with children, easier on the body. If you're finding it harder and harder to do these activities it's a good idea to incorporate some stretching exercises for flexibility into your routine.

‘Exercise, especially combined with losing weight if you need to, is a major way to maintain flexibility as we age,’ says Dr Patricia Macnair of Milford Hospital, Surrey.

The reason? ‘Exercise is anti-inflammatory and helps loosen you up by putting stiff tissues through a range of stretching and strengthening. It also helps lubricate the joints and breaks tiny scars that form on a microscopic level in soft tissues (especially if they are inflamed) which add to a stiffening with age.’

These flexibility exercise examples are ten of the best stretches to improve flexibility.

Shoulder rolls

1. Stand up straight, feet hip-width apart and arms at your sides, loosely relaxed.

2. Roll your shoulders up, back, and down. Your thumbs should be pointing forward as you start the move. Palms point forward, elbows slightly bent, as you finish each shoulder roll.

3. Now reverse the movement so your shoulders role forwards, down, back and up. Repeat several times.

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Extended angle side bend

1. Start with your feet wide apart, legs straight and right foot pointing to the side. Stretch arms wide open at chest level, palms facing forwards.

2. Slowly bend your right knee, lowering yourself down to the right side, ensuring your feet are wide enough so your knee does not extend beyond the line of your toes.

3. At the same time, tilt your whole body to the right, keeping the spine long and the arms outstretched.

4. Lower as far as you can, keeping abs pulled in tight, bottom tucked under and hips square to the front.

5. Reach the right hand towards the floor and the left to the ceiling.

6. Try to hold for 15-30 seconds. You should feel a stretch in the right hamstring, left inner thigh, left waist, chest and front of shoulders.

7. Slowly return to centre and repeat on the left side.

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Lower back mobiliser

1. Lie on your back, legs almost straight, arms outstretched on the floor, in a cross position.

2. Exhale and raise both knees towards your chest. Inhale, feeling the air expand your chest.

3. Exhale and drop both knees together to your right. Keep both shoulders in contact with the floor and turn your head to the left.

4. Inhale and bring your knees back to the chest. Exhale and repeat to the left.

5. Try to keep your arms and shoulders down but feel the lumbo-pelvic region rotating freely.

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Standing hamstring stretch

1. Stand with feet slightly less than shoulder-width apart, facing forwards.

2. Step forward with your left foot. Flex your left foot up towards you.

3. Bend forward at your hips and place your hands on your left thigh. Keep your left leg straight as you slightly bend the right knee.

4. Feel the stretch along your left hamstring. Hold for 30-60 seconds then switch sides.

Chest mobiliser

1. Stand up straight and open your arms wide, tilt your head back and push your chest forwards. Take a deep breath in.

2. Breathe out and as you do so nod your head to your chest, clasp your upper arm with the opposite hand as if hugging yourself and hunch your back forwards.

3. Repeat whenever your back or chest feels stiff.

Neck and shoulder release exercise. Illustration by Jessie Ford

Neck-and-shoulder release

1 Sit up straight with your shoulders relaxed, and your tummy and back muscles loosely pulled in to engage your core.

2 Slowly drop your right ear to your right shoulder, as far as comfortable, feeling the stretch on the side of the neck.

3 Push the fingers of your left hand towards the floor, extending the stretch into the top of your shoulder. Hold for 30 seconds.

4 Repeat on the other side.

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Cat stretch. Illustration by Jessie Ford

The cat stretch

1 Get down on all fours, using a blanket to cushion your knees.

2 Position your wrists slightly forward from your shoulders with your knees directly below your hips.

3 Inhale slowly and draw your chest forwards and up, allowing your spine to sink down.

4 Exhale with a sigh and arch your back upwards, relaxing your neck. Repeat five times, slowly breathing in and out as you move.

Side reach and stretch

1. To improve the mobility of your shoulders and upper back, sit or stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.

2. With your right hand, reach up and over your head as if climbing a rope (relax your left knee if standing). Hold the position for five seconds.

3. Bring your right arm down and reach up and over with your left hand (relaxing your right knee) and hold the position for ten seconds.

4. Repeat five times to each side.

From Sod Sitting, Get Moving By Diana Moran and Muir Gray

Up and over

1. Stand with your feet apart. With your arms out to your sides, hold both ends of an exercise band (or a small towel) taut out in front of you at shoulder level.

2. Lift both arms up and take the band or towel over and behind your head and on as far down your back as comfortable.

3. Then, raise it up and over your head, still pulling hard at both ends to keep it taut throughout. Repeat ten times.

From Sod Sitting, Get Moving By Diana Moran and Muir Gray

Palm squeeze

1. Sit or stand. Holding two soft (tennis) balls (or oranges), tuck your elbows into your waist with lower arms out in front, and palms uppermost. Keep your arms and wrists still.

2. Squeeze and release the balls ten times, as tightly as possible.

From Sod Sitting, Get Moving By Diana Moran and Muir Gray

Keeping flexible is a great way to stay in shape, although nothing beats a good walk in the outdoors - learn some of our top tips on how to get the most out of your walks.

If mobility is an issue, you can still incorporate some exercise into your daily routine as part of a healthy lifestyle. Our nine easy chair exercises are a great starting point.

Do you suffer from bone, muscle or joint pain? With the support of Saga Health Insurance, members can arrange physiotherapy without seeing a GP. For more information, contact us today.


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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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