Exercising regularly can help keep you active as you age. It can help keep you stronger and more flexible. And it can help limit some health conditions that can come with aging, like osteoporosis, heart disease and deconditioning.

But how do you practice fitness as you advance in years, especially if you have mobility limitations? Two words: Chair exercises.

“Seated or standing chair exercises can help you to safely and effectively increase muscle tone, flexibility and even get your heart rate up a bit,” says physical therapist Tobi Jevnikar, PT. “Everyone at every age and ability can benefit from exercise, and chair-based exercises are modifications that can help you to exercise safely.” Even better: No fancy equipment or gym membership needed.

Jevnikar shares how chair exercises work, who should try them and some examples of chair exercises to get you started.

Do chair exercises really work?

The idea that chair exercises can help you age more successfully may sound too good to be true. But research shows that chair exercises can help you better meet the challenges of carrying out everyday tasks.

Researchers in those studies noted that following a chair exercise routine helped with elements like:

Improved strength.

Better balance.

Improved walking.

In other words, chair exercises may not be the key to losing weight or preparing you for a hot yoga class. But what they can do is help build your strength and stamina. That means you may be better able to do things like walk short distances, vacuum, carry a pot of water from the sink to the stove and load laundry into the dryer.

“A chair exercise program can make a difference as you age to help you stay independent and go about your day-to-day activities successfully,” Jevnikar states.

Who can benefit from chair exercises?

There’s a wide range of physical fitness and exercise abilities at any age. Of course, there are fitness enthusiasts who run 5Ks and lift weights at the gym well after retirement. And if your health allows for it, there’s no reason not to keep up that pace.

But if it’s risky for you to engage in more strenuous exercise, chair exercises could be up your alley.

“We typically recommend chair exercises to people starting around age 65 or older, as well as for people who use assistive devices like walkers or wheelchairs,” Jevnikar shares. “They can benefit anyone for whom mobility or balance is a concern.”

Example chair exercises for seniors

The following list of chair exercises is by no means exhaustive. After all, there are probably hundreds of ways to get more movement into your day, even while seated.

But Jevnikar suggests these as some of the best chair exercises that are well tolerated by most people and can help you to stay strong and flexible as you age.

“We lose muscle mass as we age so it’s important to do what you can to maintain strength,” she notes. “I suggest following a routine that focuses on several muscle groups to work the muscles across your whole body.”

In other words, your chair exercise program should ideally target all of your major muscle groups — from your arms to your core to your legs and more.

To get started, sit in a steady chair with a back and a firm bottom. Not a couch or other chair that you

sink into. And nothing on wheels. Dining room table chairs without armrests are usually good choices.

These exercises are safe to do every day for most people. Jevnikar recommends starting with one set of 10 and working up to two to three sets of 10 if tolerated.

Seated leg extensions

Muscle group: Legs.

Sit with both feet on the floor and your legs about hip-width apart.

Shuffle your bottom toward the front of your chair.

Keep your back straight and your shoulders pulled back.

Slowly lift one leg to be parallel with the floor (or as close to parallel as you can).

Hold for a moment and bring your leg back to the ground.

Repeat for 10 repetitions on one leg. Then, switch to your other leg.

Need a little more challenge? Try it with shoes on. Or use ankle weights to add a bit of resistance.

Pelvic tilt

Muscle groups: Abdominals and back.

Sit with your back touching the back of the chair. Place both feet on the floor and keep your legs about shoulder-width apart.

Keep your shoulders and your upper body still.

Engage your buttocks and abdominal muscles to gently push your lower back into the back of the chair, tucking your tailbone under you.

Hold for a few seconds and release.

Repeat 10 times.

The movement here is subtle. But working to move your pelvis up and back can help to counteract the effects of swayback, like lower back pain.

Heel raises

Muscle group: Back of lower legs.

Sit with both feet on the floor and your legs about hip-width apart.

Slowly raise the heels of both feet off the ground as high as you can without pain. Keep your toes on the ground and hold the rest of your body still.

Lower your heels to the ground.

Repeat for 10 repetitions.

Toe raises

Muscle group: Front of lower legs.

Sit with both feet on the floor and your legs about hip-width apart.

Slowly raise your toes of both feet off the ground as high as you can without pain. Keep your heels on the ground and hold the rest of your body still.

Lower your toes to the ground.

Repeat for 10 repetitions.

Shoulder blade squeeze

Muscle groups: Back and upper chest.

Sit with both feet on the floor and your legs about hip-width apart.

Bend your arms at your elbows so your arms are parallel to the floor.

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Gently pull your elbows back as you squeeze your shoulder blades together. Keep your arms at your sides. They should graze your ribcage as they pull back.

Hold for a moment and release.

Repeat for 10 repetitions.

“Lots of us get into a poor posture position where the weight of your head pulls it forward and you wind up with a rounding in the shoulders,” Jevnikar says. “This kind of exercise can help to build strength to bring your shoulders back into alignment.”

Thigh squeeze

Muscle groups: Hips/inner thighs.

Grab a pillow to get started with this strengthening exercise for your lower body.

Sit with both feet on the floor and your legs about hip-width apart.

Shuffle your bottom toward the front of your chair.

Place your pillow between your knees.

Squeeze your knees toward each other, engaging your thigh muscles.

Hold for five seconds.

Repeat for 10 repetitions.

Leg push apart

Muscle groups: Hips/outer thighs.

Sit with both feet on the floor and your legs about hip-width apart.

Shuffle your bottom toward the front of your chair.

Place your hands on the outside of each of your knees.

Use your hands for resistance as you push your knees away from each other.

Hold for five seconds.

Repeat for 10 repetitions.

Bicep curls

Muscle group: Arms.

Sit with both feet on the floor and your legs about hip-width apart.

Bend one arm at the elbow as far as you can.

Lower it back down.

Repeat for 10 repetitions and repeat with the other arm.

If that’s easy for you, try adding some weight. Hold a can of soup or put on wrist weights if you have them.

Arm raise

Muscle groups: Arms, shoulders and upper back.

Sit with both feet on the floor and your legs about hip-width apart.

Keep your back straight and your gaze ahead.

Position your hands with your thumbs pointing up.

Lift both arms at a 45-degree angle to no higher than shoulder height. The goal isn’t to lift your arms to your side or straight in front of you — but about halfway between those two.

Lower and repeat for 10 repetitions.

Hold a can of soup or use a wrist weight to add resistance if you need more challenge.

Marching

Muscle groups: Hips and legs.

Getting your knees up high can help you to get more range of motion in your hips. If your body allows, you can march while standing and hold the back of a chair for support. Or opt for a seated march, like this:

Sit with both feet on the floor and your legs about hip-width apart.

Shuffle your bottom toward the front of your chair and hold the front of the chair for support if you need it.

Keep your knee bent and raise it up a few inches.

Lower it and repeat with the other side.

Continue to alternate knees for 10 repetitions per side.

Side bend stretch

Muscle group: Abdominals.

Sit with both feet on the floor and your legs about hip-width apart.

Raise your right arm straight up over your head.

Keeping your feet planted and your buttocks firmly in place, bend to the left as far as is comfortable.

Release and come back to sitting straight.

Repeat five times.

Repeat on the other side (left arm up, bending to the right side).

Keep safe during chair exercises

Always keep safety top of mind when doing any kind of exercise. Push only to the point where you can feel your muscles working. Not to the point of pain or exhaustion. Remember that you’re working to build muscle and strength. Overdoing it is only going to set you back.

“A little muscle soreness from exercise is normal,” Jevnikar reassures. “But if you experience any joint pain doing exercises or if your pain doesn’t resolve, that’s your body telling you to back off.”

If you’re wondering whether chair exercises are right for you, talk with a healthcare provider, like a primary care physician or physical therapist. They can assess your present fitness level and recommend an exercise routine that best matches your goals and considers any limitations you live with.

Submitted by

Cleveland Clinic