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22 Chair Exercises for Seniors & How to Get Started

by Melissa Mills, RN January 28, 2020 0 Comments

Exercise is crucial for leading an active, healthy, happy life. When you think "exercise," you might think "get up and go." But what if you could be active while still sitting? We have great news -- you can!  With chair exercises for seniors, you can perform a seated routine that rivals any you've ever done on your feet!

You no longer need to worry that you can’t get the activity you need to be healthy. If you’re looking for an exercise program that provides modified activities due to age, immobility, balance issues, or you’re recovering from an injury or surgery, these workouts are for you!

22 Chair Exercises for Seniors

Whether you’re using a dining chair or exercise ball, a seated workout encompasses far more than movements. Chair-based exercises will develop your cardio fitness, muscular strength, and flexibility. Here are some of the best chair exercises for seniors. Practice these basic movements, and choose one or two exercises from each category for a well-rounded seated workout.

Ask the Pros: Kate Maurer, Physical Therapist
“You need to lubricate your joints and stretch and contract your muscles throughout the workday. Movement keeps you limber, and when the time comes to do more physical work, your muscles and joints are ready for the challenge.”

Warm-Up Chair Exercises for Seniors

Like any other workout, we want to begin with a warm-up. Loosening and warming the muscles prepares them for the movements they’re about to do and dramatically reduces the risk of injury. Try these warm-up chair exercises for seniors.  

1. Neck Stretch

Difficulty Sets/Reps Time
Easy 2-5 Reps 3 Minutes

Sit up straight, and slowly tilt your head toward your right shoulder until you feel a stretch. Hold this position while gradually extending your left arm down and to the side. You should feel a stretch on the left side of your neck. Release, and repeat on the other side. Perform two to five repetitions per side. This stretch will warm up your neck and the group of muscles at the top of your back, and get you ready for arm exercises.

2. Shoulder Circles

Difficulty Sets/Reps Time
Easy 15 Reps 2 Minutes

In a seated position, place your fingertips on your shoulders. Circle your shoulders forward for fifteen repetitions. Reverse the movement, and circle backward for fifteen repetitions. This exercise will warm up your shoulder muscles and reduce the risk of strain.

Chair Exercises for Arms

Stronger muscles can provide greater balance and stability, which reduces the risk of falling. Being stronger also makes daily life easier. When you can get around with ease, life becomes more pleasurable. Lifting bags and other items that used to weigh you down might serve as a reminder of your improved fitness and health.

3. Bicep Curls (NEW!)

Difficulty Sets/Reps Time
Easy to Difficult 3 Sets, 10 Reps 4 Minutes

For a simple bicep curl, you can take anywhere, all you need is a set of Resistance Bands . Start by choosing your resistance level, from X-light to X-heavy, and then place your feet on the resistance band, shoulder-width apart. Grab the handles of your bands, palm upward, and curl your hands up to your shoulders. Remember to keep your elbows at your sides, and then slowly lower the bands. Repeat for 3 sets of 10. Small, lightweight, dumbbells will also work great.

For a little more comfort when doing resistance band exercises, try these fabric ones, which can be used for a variety of different workouts.

4. Seated Row

Difficulty Sets/Reps Time
Easy 3 Sets, 8-10 Reps 4 Minutes

Sit on the edge of your seat with your feet flat on the floor. Hold your arms in front of you, with your thumbs pointed toward the ceiling and your elbows slightly bent. Draw your elbows back, squeezing your shoulder blades together, until your upper arms are in line with your body. Extend your arms again, and repeat eight to ten times. Once you build up more strength, try wearing wrist weights to make it more challenging. This exercise strengthens your shoulders, chest, and upper back while placing little stress on your joints.

You can also increase the intensity of your seated row with a full Rowing Machine. With adjustable tension settings, it’s a great way to build strength or work on your cardio.

5. Shoulder Rolls

Difficulty Sets/Reps Time
Easy 10 Reps 3 Minutes

Sit tall with your feet flat on the ground. Shrug your shoulders up toward your ears, and slowly rotate your shoulders in a circle—back, down, forward, and back to the top. When you reach the top, reverse the movement. Roll your shoulders forward, down, back, and to the top again. Perform ten repetitions in each direction, for a total of twenty reps. This movement engages your shoulders and trapezius muscles, which are essential for lifting and carrying objects.

6. Isolated Tricep Extensions

Difficulty Sets/Reps Time
Medium 3 Sets, 8-10 Reps 4 Minutes

This exercise requires a set of hand weights. Grab your weight with one hand and with your shoulders back and your abs tight, and reach it behind your head. Use the other hand to brace the upper arm near the shoulder. Then raise the first arm over the head until it is straight. Slowly lower it back into position and repeat with both arms.

Chair Exercises for Legs

It may seem impossible to strengthen your legs while sitting down, but you absolutely can! Here are a few chair exercises for legs to work your quads, glutes, and calves.

7. Toe Taps

Difficulty Sets/Reps Time
Easy 3 Sets, 8-10 Reps 4 Minutes

Sit up straight with your feet flat on the ground. Bend your toes toward the ceiling and back to the floor. To increase the difficulty of this exercise, sit on the edge of your seat with your legs straight. Keep your heels on the ground as you bend your toes upward and then back down. This variation increases the range of motion. Perform eight to ten repetitions to strengthen your calves and the muscles running alongside your shins. You use these muscles to climb stairs and perform daily activities.

8. Knee Lifts

Difficulty Sets/Reps Time
Medium 3 Sets, 10 Reps 4 Minutes

Sit up straight with your feet flat. Slowly lift your right knee toward your chest, and then lower your foot back to the floor. Repeat with your left leg. Perform ten repetitions per leg, for a total of twenty reps. For an added challenge, pause for a five-count at the top of the movement. This exercise strengthens your quads, which is the largest muscle group in your body. You use your quads in nearly everything you do, and strengthening them will make you feel stronger overall. As you build strength, consider enhancing your workout by using Ankle Weights for added resistance.

9. Sit-to-Stands

Difficulty Sets/Reps Time
Easy 3 Sets, 10 Reps 4 Minutes

The best way to start off with this exercise is with just your own body weight. If you want a slightly more challenging workout, you can add weights. Start by sitting comfortably in the chair, with a straight posture–chest out, back straight, abs tight, and toes pointed forward. Then reach your arms forward and, maintaining your posture, move from sitting to standing. Make sure your knees are not pointed inward, and you feel the tension in your hips and legs. Do 3 sets of 10 reps each.

10. Heel Slides

Difficulty Sets/Reps Time
Medium 3 Sets, 8-10 Reps 4 Minutes

Sit comfortably at the edge of your chair while keeping your chest out, your abs tight, and both hands on the edge of the chair for stability. Then, with your toes pointed forward, extend one of your legs forward while keeping the other bent naturally. Begin slowly drawing the extended foot backward, keeping its sole flat on the floor until it has returned to its original position. Switch legs and repeat the process.

Chair Core Exercises for Seniors

Strengthening your core and abs is crucial for improving balance and stability. Perform these chair core exercises for seniors to improve your muscular foundation and protect yourself from accidental falls. The seated exercises are great for lower back, abs, and glutes. Here are a few activities to build a strong foundation!

11. Tummy Twists for Abs

Difficulty Sets/Reps Time
Easy 8-10 Reps 3 Minutes

Sit up straight with your feet flat on the ground. Hold your arms at a ninety-degree angle with your elbows at your sides and your forearms extended in front of you. Rotate your upper torso to the left through a full range of motion. Keep your lower body still, and brace your core by imagining you’re sucking your belly button toward your spine. Return to the middle and twist to the right. Perform ten repetitions on each side, for a total of twenty. This exercise strengthens your obliques, abdominal muscles used for trunk rotation, and will help you maintain good posture. Also, check out the best back braces to improve poor posture.

12. Captain’s Chair

Difficulty Sets/Reps Time
Medium 3 Sets, 8-10 Reps 4 Minutes

Be sure your chair is sturdy. Sit up straight and grasp the edges of your seat. Slowly lift your feet off the floor. Move your knees toward your chest. Squeeze your abs at the top, and slowly lower your feet back to the floor. Don’t try to move past a comfortable position. If you can only raise your feet a few inches off the floor, that’s fine. This exercise will strengthen your abs and other core muscles, such as your glutes.

13. Captain’s Chair

Difficulty Sets/Reps Time
Difficult 2-3 Reps 3 Minutes

This advanced exercise is great for working both the arms and the core. Begin by standing tall, facing the chair. Bend over to place both hands on either side of the chair’s seat, then begin to shift your feet backward. Continue moving the feet back until the back is completely straight from shoulder to heel. You’ll know you’re in the correct position when you feel tension in your core muscles. Hold this position for up to 30 seconds and then rest. Repeat two to three times.

Chair Aerobics for Cardio

Improved cardiovascular health is essential for reducing the risk of heart attacks and improving your overall quality of life. Chair cardio exercises for seniors are one of the best ways to make daily life less tiring. You can invest in a quality piece of workout equipment like a Stationary Bike or try any of the cardio exercises listed below.

Ask the Pros: Rachel Tavel, DPT
“When it comes to determining the best exercises for seniors, variety is key. Adults of all ages—but especially people older than 65—should focus on a combination of strength and mobility exercises, as well as balance exercises and aerobic activity.”

14. Seated Jumping Jacks

Difficulty Sets/Reps Time
Easy 3 Sets, 20 Reps 5 Minutes

Sit up straight, on the edge of your seat. Extend your arms to the sides and then above your head, as you would with a normal jumping jack. Return them to your sides before raising them again. Start slow, and then increase your speed until you’re moving your arms as fast as you can. Perform three sets of twenty repetitions. If you’re exercising in a chair with arms, be careful that you don’t strike the armrests during the movement.

15. Skater Switch

Difficulty Sets/Reps Time
Difficult 3 Sets, 8-10 Reps 4 Minutes

Sitting on the edge of your chair, bend your right knee and place your toe on the floor. Extend your left leg straight out to the side with your toes pointed. Extend your arms straight in front of you, and bend forward. Reach your left arm to the insole of your right foot, raising your right arm behind your body and twisting at your waist. Return your arms in front of you, and straighten your back. Repeat this action ten times, and then switch your legs and reverse the movement for another ten reps. For added difficulty, alternate left and right, quickly changing your leg position between reps.

16. Chair Running

Difficulty Sets/Reps Time
Medium 3 Sets, 8-10 Reps 4 Minutes

Sit with your legs extended, toes pointed, and arms bent by your sides. Lean back slightly so that your shoulder blades barely touch the back of your chair. Gently lift your feet from the floor. Pull one knee toward you while the other is extended, and then switch, mimicking a running motion. If necessary, grip the armrests or sides of your seat for balance.

17. Seated Pedaling (NEW!)

Difficulty Sets/Reps Time
Easy to Medium N/A 20 to 30 Minutes

This seated exercise is perfect for a low impact cardiovascular workout; however, it does require the use of a Pedal Exerciser. Sit down in a stable, non rolling, chair or even couch. Adjust the tension from mild or moderate, based on your strength and ability.  Simply place your feet on the pedals and pedal for 20 to 30 minutes at a time. The non-slip rubber feet keep it secure while in use, letting you read or watch television while getting in your workout.

18. Seated Tap Dance

Difficulty Sets/Reps Time
Easy N/A 3-5 Minutes

Sit with your knees bent and your toes resting lightly on the floor. Extend one leg, and gently tap your heel on the ground. With your leg still extended, point your toes and tap them to the floor. Flex your foot, and tap your heel again. Return to the starting position, and repeat with the opposite leg. Perform the “tap dancing” for three to five minutes. Set a timer, and try to go a little longer each time you exercise.

Seated Chair Exercises for Flexibility

Being flexible, with a full range of motion, makes everything feel better, like reaching down to tie your shoe or stretching for the top shelf. Flexibility reduces stiffness and pain, allowing you to perform your daily activities. Do these exercises as described below or with the help of a Stretch Strap.

19. Seated Forward Bend

Difficulty Sets/Reps Time
Easy 3 Reps 2 Minutes

This movement stretches your lower and upper back. Widen your legs, and place your feet flat on the floor. Slowly lean forward, dropping your torso toward your thighs. Relax your neck, and lower your hands toward your feet. When you feel a stretch, hold the position for thirty seconds, and then slowly return to the starting position. Repeat three times.

20. Knee to Chest

Difficulty Sets/Reps Time
Medium 3 Reps per Leg 3 Minutes

Sit up straight with your left foot firmly on the ground. Grasp the back of your right knee, and slowly pull it toward your chest until you feel a stretch. Hold the position for thirty seconds, and then repeat with your left leg. Perform three reps per side. This exercise stretches your hamstrings and glutes—big muscles that need to be flexible to prevent injury.

21. Ankle Rotations

Sit up straight, and rest your ankle on the opposite knee. Rotate your ankle in circles. Perform ten rotations clockwise and ten rotations counterclockwise. Point your toes for an additional stretch.

Difficulty Sets/Reps Time
Easy 3 Sets, 10 Reps 3 Minutes

22. Sit and Reach

Difficulty Sets/Reps Time
Easy 3 Reps per Side 3 Minutes

Sit with your knees together and your back straight. Extend one arm straight toward the ceiling. Stretch your body upward, feeling the stretch along your torso. Look toward your hand to get a stretch in your neck and shoulders. Hold the position for five to ten seconds, and then switch to the other side. Repeat three times per side.

Get Started with Fun Chair Exercises for Seniors

Ready to get started with seated exercise? All you need is a chair and a positive attitude! It’s easy to get started, and there are plenty of resources available to point you in the right direction.

  • Ideal Chair

    Pick out a good chair. The best chair will have a straight back and will be stable. Please, no wheels. Leave the rolling chairs in the office. You’ll want something with a comfortable cushion, but not a deep armchair you’ll disappear into. A sturdy kitchen chair is a good option.

  • Learn from Videos

    YouTube is a wealth of exercise information. It’s easier to understand an exercise when you can actually see it being performed. Go to YouTube.com and type in the search bar “chair exercises” or “seated exercises.” You’ll find instructional videos to teach you some basic movements. Remember to perform these fun chair exercises in a safe environment, with someone nearby in case of emergency.

  • Take Classes

    Yes, seated exercise classes exist! Ask your local gym or community center if they offer chair exercise classes, created specifically for seniors. If not, express your interest in such a class and ask if they’ll provide one in the future. There are infinite variations of chair workouts, even chair yoga! Discover why yoga is a great, low-impact form of exercises for seniors.

When to Consider Chair Exercises for Seniors

Exercising can become difficult and place a strain on joints and muscles as you age. The increased tension can lead to pain and injury. Staying fit is imperative for preventing the very pain and injury overly intense exercise can cause. For an older adult who struggles with this dilemma, chair exercises for seniors are the perfect solution. They help you stay fit and healthy, without placing undue stress on your body. If any of the below descriptions fit you, chair exercises may be just what you’re looking for.

  • Poor balance, and a higher risk of falling during exercise
  • Joint pain that makes standing painful and difficult
  • Limited range of motion or poor mobility
  • Recovering from a surgery or an injury
  • Beginning a routine and need to start slow and work up to standing exercises
  • Ready to try something new and shake up your fitness routine

Benefits of Chair Exercises for Seniors

Seated exercise offers all the benefits of standing exercise, without the risk. Chair exercises will keep your joints flexible, improving your range of motion and mobility. They also strengthen and stabilize your muscles, resulting in improved balance, which is key for preventing falls and injuries. After a few weeks of regular chair exercise, you can expect to see an improvement in your overall health and fitness. You’ll feel better, and your daily routine will be easier. A few benefits of chair exercises for seniors include:

  • Improved flexibility and range of motion
  • Decreased joint pain and stiffness
  • Improved muscle strength and balance
  • Increased blood circulation
  • Elevated mood and concentration
  • Lowered stress levels
Ask the Pros: Kele Murdin, Certified Exercise Expert
“Regular activity can positively impact our physical health as well as our mental and emotional wellbeing. It can help give us more energy and greater self-confidence, enabling us to embrace our later years with gusto.”

Sit down and Get Fit!

Seated exercise Chair exercises improve strength, cardiovascular health, and flexibility—all while having a good time! ( Image Reference)

Chair exercises may be the holy grail of fitness for seniors. They allow older adults who otherwise would not be able to exercise consistently improve their strength, cardiovascular fitness, and mobility—without the high risk of injury present during traditional exercise routines. Seated exercises are gentler on the joints and will reduce pain, not add to it. Seniors can expect the same benefits from seated exercise that they would from standing routines, and chair exercises can be a lifesaver for someone recovering from surgery or an injury. All you need is a sturdy chair and a desire to become stronger and healthier!

Melissa Mills, RN
Melissa Mills, RN

Melissa is a Quality Assurance Nurse, professor, writer, and business owner. She enjoys empowering older adults to live their best life through daily self-care activities. Melissa is owner of www.makingspace.company, a website dedicated to helping women find their creative passions through writing and co-owner of enursingresources.com, a start-up Nursing CE company that will offer online courses soon.



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