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9 Chair exercises every senior should know

Jul 16, 2024

Clinical Editor: Megan Dodson, PA-C

As our bodies age, exercise may become increasingly difficult due to limited mobility, balance, disabilities or more. No matter the limitations however, chair exercises are a great option to help you live your healthiest life at any age.

Regular exercise is an integral part of leading a healthy lifestyle. Our body reaps a number of benefits from regular exercise that lead to better physical health, bone strength, joint functionality, mental health and more.

As we grow older however, our bodies naturally begin to age over time,  often leading to decreased mobility and overall strength. At this point, regular exercise may become increasingly difficult,  in turn leading to possible health complications such as weight gain and a higher risk of heart disease as a result of a more sedentary lifestyle.

Yet, despite such challenges, there is always a way to get moving, and never a bad time to start! So what’s one of the best ways seniors can start an exercise routine? Look no further than this common household item: a chair. 

When it comes to exercise, chairs make for a great option given that they are versatile and stable. What’s more, anyone, at any level of exercise can do these workouts and reap the benefits of stronger joints, muscles and better balance. Chair exercises are also great for disabled adults, or adults that may have trouble with standing or walking. Before starting, be sure to use a chair that does not have wheels. If you do not have a chair that you can use, any piece of furniture that is stable, which you can grab onto works just as well.

With the right exercises, your chair becomes one of the best pieces of exercise equipment for seniors. Below, we will discuss some great exercises that work your arms, legs and core. However before diving in, it’s crucial that we discuss the importance of safety. While these exercises are done in a chair, every exercise may prove to be more or less difficult for some folks. 

While doing these exercises, it’s especially important to listen to your body as you do not want to overwork yourself. Placing too much stress on your body can lead to serious injury. While these may be seated exercises, they can still place enough stress on your muscles and body that it may cause injury. Be sure to start slow and small. Exercise is a process, and it’s important you gradually work out to a point where you are comfortable. Above all, before starting any of these exercises, be sure to discuss options with your doctor to find out what route is best for you.

Lastly, make sure that you breathe! When exercising, it can be easy to hold your breath. Yet, breathing is essential for good form and injury prevention. When doing these exercises, be sure to keep a steady rhythm of breathing to get the most out of your workout.

At One Medical Seniors, we practice patient-centric care to ensure our patients feel empowered and in control of their health journey. With these exercises, you’ll be able to do just that. Here’s the list of chair exercises every senior should know. 

Seated row

To get us started, let’s work with an upper body exercise that is great for your arms, shoulders and back. This is an effective, beginner’s-level exercise that can be done with or without weights. For safety, start with no weight and work your way up to using one pound, two pound or heavier weights.

So, without further ado, here’s how we do the seated row:

  • Start by sitting down on the edge of the chair or in a position that feels steady. (Sitting on the edge allows you to have a higher range of motion, meaning you can reach back with your elbows to get the full benefit of the exercise)
  • Once you are comfortably seated, hold your arms out straight in front of you. Slightly bend your elbows and point your thumbs toward the ceiling. This is your starting position.
  • Next, inhale and slowly draw your elbows back, squeezing your shoulder blades together. Once your elbows are drawn back, slowly return your arms to their starting position and repeat this exercise 8 to 10 times.

Overhead arm raises

Next on our list of chair exercises is the overhead arm raise, a beginner-level, yet great exercise to work your shoulders and arms. For this exercise, we recommend you use a weighted object or weights for some light strength training. However, you should get used to the exercise and practice your form before introducing any weights.

Dumbbells, soup cans or any other light weights are perfect for this exercise, but are not required. To start: 

Sit upright in the chair with your feet flat on the floor. Make sure your feet spread at a shoulder-width’s length apart. 

  • Next, hold your hands or weights by your sides at shoulder height with your elbows comfortably bent and your palms facing forward.
  • Breathe in slowly and then out slowly as you raise your arms over your head, keeping your elbows slightly bent.
  • Hold this position for one second, then breathe out and let your arms descend back into the starting position. 

Nice work! You just did your first rep of the overhead arm raise. 

Repeat this exercise 10 times, rest and then complete the exercise for another ten reps. This is a great exercise to improve mobility in your shoulders while also supplying some strength training for your arms.

Shoulder rolls

After the overhead arm raise, shoulder rolls are incredibly simple, yet effective exercise to promote mobility in your shoulders. This exercise helps stabilize your shoulder blades to help improve strength in your upper body. It is just one of many easy upper body exercises for seniors; let’s get started: 

  • First, sit upright on a chair with your feet flat on the floor. Once again, your feet should be a shoulder-width’s distance apart. Start without weights until you can work up to a comfortable level of strength.
  • With your arms down by your side, slowly breathe in and begin to raise your shoulders towards your ears. Bring your shoulders as far up as you can while keeping your arms extended. 
  • Hold this position for one second, exhale and slowly bring your shoulders back down to the starting position. 

Nice work! Repeat this exercise 20 times or until you feel like you should take a rest.

Standing calf raises

Now, let’s move on to the lower half of our body with a great exercise for your calves. This exercise will also help you with improving balance and stability. It is just one of the best balance exercises for seniors. For this exercise, we will not be sitting in the chair, but using it for support as we do these calf raises. 

  • Start by standing behind the chair, placing your hands on the back.
  • Lift yourself from your toes as high as you comfortably can, hold for one second and return yourself to the starting position. Repeat this exercise 10 times, or as many times as you feel is comfortable to avoid injury.
  • When performing this exercise, you should inhale while you are going upwards and exhale while you are returning to the starting position.

Knee extensions

Next for our lower body exercises are knee extensions, a great leg exercise for stronger knees, quadriceps and improved joint mobility. Here’s how to get started:

  • Begin by sitting on the chair with your feet flat on the floor. Make sure that your feet are shoulder-width apart. Like some of the other exercises, this will be your starting position. 
  • While holding on to the sides of the chair, extend your right knee out so that your toes are pointed towards the ceiling. Make sure that your knee stays slightly bent, not locked into place.
  • While exhaling, lower your leg back to the starting position and repeat the exercise 8 to 10 times. Once you have done all your reps for your right leg, switch to your left leg and complete the exercise 8 to 10 times. 

Toe taps

Next for lower body exercises are toe taps, a great exercise for strengthening the front and rear of your legs. This will help strengthen muscles that are needed for everyday mobility like climbing the stairs, stepping over objects or maintaining balance over an uneven surface. 

  • To start, sit on the chair with your feet flat on the ground and engage your abs. With your heels still planted on the floor, lift your toes so that they are tilted towards the ceiling.
  • Repeat this exercise several times. To increase your range of motion, sit closer to the edge of the chair. Grab onto the sides of the chair and extend your legs out in front of you. With your heels still on the ground, tilt your toes up towards the ceiling. 

Knee lifts

For these next couple of exercises, we will be focusing on your core. Your midsection is crucial for balance and upper body mobility, so the first exercise we will discuss are knee lifts. This exercise is a great way to engage your abs, quads and hips. It is one of the best core exercises for seniors!

We’ll start this exercise in the same way as  some of the previous exercises: 

  • Sit upright in your chair with your back straight. Make sure your feet are flat on the floor and that there is some space in between your feet.
  • Next, grab your right knee, engage your core and slowly pull your knee towards your chest while slowly inhaling. Hold this position for one second then exhale as you lower your knee back to the starting position.

Awesome! You’ve just done one knee lift. To complete this exercise, repeat your knee lift 8 to 10 times for each leg. 

Seated tummy twist

For another great core workout, we’ll now look at how to do the seated tummy twist. For this exercise, it may be helpful to use an exercise ball of some sort, but not to worry if not, you can still perform this simple exercise without it!

Here’s how we start: 

  • Begin by sitting upright in your chair with your feet placed flat on the floor. 
  • While holding the ball close to your body, slowly rotate your torso to the left as far as you are comfortable going while keeping the rest of your body still.
  • Next, rotate your body back towards the middle and repeat the same twisting motion to the right side. 

Once you have come back to the middle you have done one set! Awesome work. Repeat this exercise for about 8 to 10 sets, this will bring you to between 16 and 20 twists total.

Side bend

Last on our list is another simple, yet effective core workout for seniors. This exercise focuses on your abdomen, including other core muscles such as your obliques. 

  • Similar to previous exercises, we’ll  start seated upright in a chair with our feet flat on the floor. 
  • Hold onto the side of the chair seat with one hand, and let your other arm hang straight at your side beside the chairInhale and slowly lean towards the side your arm is hanging, sliding your hand down the chair and descending as if you were going to touch the floor. (Please note that this exercise is slightly more difficult than other core exercises, so take your time and do not overexert yourself to avoid injuring yourself or falling).
  • Next, contract your obliques and bring your body back towards the middle, making sure to keep your chest back from falling forward. Once you have returned to the starting position, switch the positions of your arms and repeat with the other side. 

Like the tummy twists, bending to both the left and right counts as one set. Repeat this exercise for 8 to 10 sets for a great core workout.

What to do after chair exercises

After completing these exercises, it’s important to address other ways you can improve your health, including hydration, stretching, exercise, as well as nutrition. Together, these components work in tandem to help you maintain your overall health. 

At One Medical Seniors, we aim to empower our patients to take action on their own journey to better health through patient-centric care, as well as resources related to their own unique situation. We provide a number of exercise and informational classes to understand the ins-and-outs of great health.

Originally published February 26, 2020

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