Good Morning, Stretch!

Simple moves help you feel better all day long

Photo: Senior man stretching in bed

Staying fit takes on new meaning as you get older. Whereas once upon a time getting in shape meant chasing six-pack abs, today you are better off (not to mention happier!) pursuing a different kind of fitness goal: staying well and preventing injury.

"One big fitness goal for anyone over 50 should be improving your long-term health," says Chhanda Dutta, who has a doctorate in Pharmacology and leads the National Institute on Aging's task force on exercise and physical activity (see for more). She advocates a mixed bag of movements to improve your strength, balance, endurance, and flexibility.

Flexibility is easily overlooked but staying limber with regular stretching helps ward off stiffness, counteracts the effects of sitting most of the day, and makes it easier to move your joints through their full range of motion. Plus, it feels good to stretch—especially soon after you wake up when your body is stiff and your mind's in a fog. To get started, try these beginner-friendly moves in your morning routine.

Shoulders and upper back stretch: Sit with your feet flat on the floor, about shoulder-width apart. Extend your arms in front of you at shoulder height, palms turned out. Relax your shoulders (no hunching), keep your upper body still, and reach forward with your arms until you feel a gentle stretch. Hold for 10 to 30 seconds, relax, and repeat three to five times.

Calf stretch: Stand facing a wall, extend your arms, and place your hands flat against the wall at shoulder height. Step forward with your right leg and bend your right knee. Keeping both feet flat on the floor, bend your left knee until you feel a gentle stretch in your left calf muscle. Hold for 10 to 30 seconds, then switch legs. Alternate legs three to five times.

Back stretch with a twist: Sit up straight toward the front of a sturdy chair with armrests. Keep your feet flat on the floor. Slowly twist to the left from your waist without moving your hips. Turn your head to the left and place your left hand onto the armrest. Place your right hand on the outside of your left thigh. Hold for 10 to 30 seconds, slowly return to the starting position, and repeat for your right side. Alternate sides three to five times. Note: If you've had hip or back surgery, get your doctor's OK before trying this move.

Upper body stretch: Stand facing a wall slightly farther than arm's length away, with your feet shoulder width apart. Lean forward and place your palms flat against the wall at shoulder height. Keeping your back straight, slowly walk your hands up the wall until your arms are above your head and you feel a gentle stretch in your arms, chest, and shoulders. Hold for 10 to 30 seconds, then slowly walk your hands back down. Repeat three to five times.