A group of older adults play a game with bouncing balls while seated in chairs. A group of older adults play a game with bouncing balls while seated in chairs.

Seated and standing chair exercises for seniors

“Regular physical activity is one of the most important things people can do to improve their health,” writes Alex M. Azar II, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Moving more and sitting less have tremendous benefits for everyone, regardless of age, sex, race, ethnicity or current fitness level.”1

For older Americans, the least physically active of any age group, exercise can be particularly important. Those benefits include lowered risk of dementia, better perceived quality of life and reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression.2

Chair exercises for seniors

Chair exercises, seated or standing, are excellent for those with mobility or balance issues. Seniors can expect the same benefits from chair exercises that they would from any exercise routine, including:3

  • 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

Speak with a doctor first

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that people aged 65 and older should aim for 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, as well as 2 days of muscle-strengthening activities.4

Those with a chronic condition or limited mobility, or recovering from surgery or injury, may need to modify these recommendations. Research through the National Academy of Sports Medicine shows that even exercising 2 – 4 times per week for 30 minutes is beneficial for seniors.5 Consult with a doctor or physical therapist on a suitable exercise plan.

Chair stretching routines

Seated ear-to-shoulder and seated chin-to-chest 6

Benefits: Warm up the neck and shoulders and reduce the risk of strain.

Great for: All levels.

Difficulty: Easy.

Equipment: Chair.

Time: 1 minute.

Steps for seated ear-to-shoulder:

  1. Sit in a chair with the back straight and feet flat on the floor.
  2. Relax the shoulders and let the arms hang at your sides.
  3. Tilt the head and try to bring the right ear as close as possible toward the right shoulder.
  4. Hold for 15 seconds, while breathing deeply.
  5. Repeat on the left side.
  6. Do 2 or 3 with 15-second holds on each side.

Steps for seated chin-to-chest:

  1. Sit in a chair with the back straight and feet flat on the floor.
  2. Lace fingers behind the head.
  3. Lower the chin toward the chest while gently pulling through the arms.
  4. Hold for 15 seconds while breathing deeply.
  5. Do 2 or 3 with 15-second holds.

Chair exercises to strengthen arms

Dumbbell curls and dumbbell overhead press7

Benefits: Strengthen arms to help with lifting bags and other everyday activities.

Great for: All levels.

Difficulty: Intermediate.

Equipment: Chair, dumbbells or hand weights.

Time: 1 minute.

Steps for dumbbell curls:

  1. Begin by sitting in a chair or standing next to a chair. Hold a dumbbell in each hand.
  2. Bend the elbows and place the dumbbells up to the shoulders. Make certain to keep elbows by the sides.
  3. Repeat 12 times.
  4. If standing but in need of a chair to keep balance, do single-arm curls, using the nonworking hand on the chair to maintain balance.

Steps for dumbbell overhead press:

  1. Begin by sitting in a chair or standing next to a chair. Hold a dumbbell in each hand.
  2. Move the dumbbells to shoulder height. This is the starting position.
  3. Raise the arms above the head, then return to the starting position.
  4. Repeat 12 times.

Chair exercises to strengthen core

Seated knee-to-chest and extended leg raises 8

Benefits: Strengthen core, abdominal and lumbar muscles.

Great for: All levels.

Difficulty: Intermediate.

Equipment: Chair.

Time: 2 minutes.

Steps for seated knee to chest:

  1. Begin seated at the edge of the chair.
  2. Keeping the back straight and core (abdominal and lumbar muscles) tight, stick out the chest.
  3. Put hands on both sides of the chair and grip the seat to remain stable.
  4. Lift both feet far out in front of the body while pointing the toes to the ceiling. Both feet should be diagonal to the hips.
  5. Then raise both legs closer to the body while bending the knees. Get as close to the chest with both knees as possible.
  6. Repeat this motion in the exact opposite direction back to starting position. This is 1 repetition.
  7. Repeat 3-5 times.
  8. There’s an option to modify and decrease difficulty by isolating this movement with 1 leg at a time, keeping the opposite leg firmly planted on the ground before beginning lifting.

Steps for extended leg raises:

  1. Begin seated at the edge of the chair.
  2. Keeping the back straight and core (abdominal and lumbar muscles) tight, stick out the chest.
  3. Put hands on both sides of the chair and grip the seat to remain stable.
  4. Lift both feet far out in front of the body while pointing the toes to the ceiling. Both feet should be diagonal to the hips.
  5. Try lifting 1 leg up to hip height without moving the center of the body. The other leg will stay in starting position.
  6. Lower the leg slowly back to starting position then repeat with the other leg.
  7. Kicking both legs is 1 repetition.
  8. Repeat 3-5 times.
  9. There is an option to modify and decrease difficulty by isolating 1 leg at a time. Keep one leg firmly planted on the ground before beginning to lift the opposite leg.

Chair exercises to strengthen legs

Chair squats and squats with chair support 9

Benefits: Strengthen legs, back and core muscles.

Great for: All levels.

Difficulty: Intermediate.

Equipment: Chair.

Time: 3 minutes.

Steps for chair squats:

  1. Begin seated in a chair with the back straight and arms at the sides.
  2. Push the heels and the middle of the feet down into the ground while standing tall. Keep the chest up and back straight.
  3. Lower into a squat position by bending at the hips, pushing them backward and bending the knees until sitting back down in the chair.
  4. Repeat 10 times.

Steps for squats with chair support:

  1. Stand up straight while holding onto a chair for support.
  2. Lower the body into a squat position by pushing the hips backward and bending the knees. Keep the chest up and back straight.
  3. Go as low as possible while keeping the upper leg parallel to the ground.
  4. Stand up and repeat.
  5. Repeat 10 times.

Share these chair exercises for seniors to support others in maintaining health, independence and well-being.

Sources:

1“Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans 2nd edition,” U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, last accessed May 24, 2022, https://health.gov/sites/default/files/2019-09/Physical_Activity_Guidelines_2nd_edition.pdfOpens in new window.

2“Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans 2nd edition.”

3Natalie Klempel, Nicole E. Blackburn, Ilona L. McMullan, Jason J. Wilson, Lee Smith, Connor Cunningham, Roger O’Sullivan, Paolo Caserotti and Mark A. Tully, “The Effect of Chair-Based Exercise on Physical Function in Older Adults: A Sytematic Review and Meta-Analysis,” National Library of Medicine, last accessed June 16, 2022, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7920319/Opens in new window.

4Sara Lindberg, “Chair Exercises for Seniors,” Healthline, last accessed May 24, 2022, https://www.healthline.com/health/chair-exercises-for-seniors#leg-routineOpens in new window.

5“21 Chair Exercises for Seniors: A Comprehensive Visual Guide,” California Mobility, last accessed May 24, 2022, https://californiamobility.com/21-chair-exercises-for-seniors-visual-guide/Opens in new window.

6K. Aleisha Fetters, “10 Total-Body Stretches You Can Do from a Chair,” SilverSneakers, last accessed June 16, 2022, https://www.silversneakers.com/blog/10-total-body-stretches-you-can-do-from-a-chair/Opens in new window.

7Lindberg, “Chair Exercises for Seniors.”

8“21 Chair Exercises for Seniors: A Comprehensive Visual Guide.”

9Lindberg, “Chair Exercises for Seniors.”

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Consult your doctor before beginning any new diet or exercise regimen.