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Experts’ 7 Best Chair Exercises for Seniors That Improve Strength, Balance and Flexibility

Follow along with easy exercise videos you can do from the comfort of home

Want to unlock the secret to better balance, stronger muscles and a brighter mood as you age? The answer might be right under you — your chair. Chair exercises for seniors can transform a simple seat into a powerful tool for improving your overall well-being.

Sure, they may not help you prepare for a marathon. But seated exercises can do a whole range of good, from giving you more stamina while running errands to playing more vigorous games with your grandchildren to feeling more confident walking with friends.

“Chair exercises can be very beneficial as we age, but really they’re good for anyone who has mobility and other health issues which may impact their ability to do non-chair exercises,” says Angela Catic, MD, MEd, a geriatrician and assistant professor at Huffington Center on Aging, Baylor College of Medicine. “People experience improved sleep, enhanced mood, reduced anxiety and better blood pressure and blood sugar control. Long-term, it can lower the risk of dementia, heart disease, frailty and even certain types of cancer.”

Moreover, chair exercises are particularly beneficial for individuals with obesity, as they ease joint strain and make physical activity more accessible and comfortable. “Anything that gets people moving, even a little, is a win,” adds Dr. Catic, who is also the Associate Chief of Staff for Education at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center.

What are chair exercises for seniors?

Chair exercises are workouts performed while seated or using a chair for support. They range from simple movements to more structured routines, such as chair yoga or chair aerobics. These exercises are designed to be low impact. That means they’re suitable for individuals with various physical limitations or those who find traditional exercises too strenuous.

Why should seniors consider chair exercises?

Woman sitting on a chair with arms out to the sides while doing exercises at home

If your health allows, there’s no reason not to engage in more strenuous exercises you already enjoy doing. However, if it’s risky for you to perform such activities, chair exercises are an excellent way to rebuild stamina, get into workouts for the first time or maintain your fitness level.

“The types of movements incorporated into chair exercises are really good for people who have conditions that impact their balance, such as peripheral neuropathy, or anything that affects their gait, like Parkinson’s and arthritis,” adds Dr. Catic.

Even very active seniors might find chair exercises beneficial, especially when returning to activity after an illness or injury. Dr. Catic notes, “I see people who say, ‘Oh, that’s too easy for me. I’ve always jogged or done other strenuous activities.’ But then you find out they haven’t actually done those things for a long time. So let’s start here, get you back into a routine with exercise and help you get back in shape.”

The benefits of chair exercises for seniors

Chair exercises improve sleep, mood and reduce anxiety. They also help control blood pressure and blood sugar, contributing to a better sense of well-being. Chair yoga, in particular, has been proven effective for people with dementia and arthritis.

Tina Wang, a chair yoga instructor with Senior Planet from AARP, sees the effect daily of her free, virtual yoga classes. “It helps the mind connect to what different parts of the body are doing,” she says. “It strengthens key muscle groups, like the hips and shoulders, promoting balance, strength and flexibility all at once.”

But it’s also much bigger than that. “It’s not like we just want to do something for strength or just do something for balance or just do something for flexibility,” adds Wang. “It’s more about how one pose can encapsulate all of those at the same time.”

Chair exercises for seniors can quiet a fear of falling

The fear of falling can discourage older adults from staying active or starting again after recovering from injury. Chair exercises for seniors provide the stability needed to build confidence, leading to greater independence, says Dr. Catic. 

“If you’re afraid of falling, you actually have a higher risk of falling,” she explains. “You have the same risk of falling within the next year as someone who has already fallen.” The consequences of fearing falls include avoiding daily activities, losing independence, reducing social interaction, experiencing depression and a diminished quality of life.

“So many older adults, understandably and rightly, are concerned about falling,” Dr. Catic says. “Oftentimes that’s the whole reason they don’t exercise: they’re scared they’re going to fall. [But] increasing confidence and stability through chair exercises is incredibly powerful. We see seniors becoming more active and independent, which is so important.”

Related: “Two Simple Chair Yoga Moves Saved Me From Chronic Pain and Constant Falls!”

Getting started with chair exercises for seniors

Ready to tap into the benefits? “Find something you like, because then you’ll actually do it,” suggests Dr. Catic. Consistency is crucial. Ideally, you should aim to incorporate chair exercises into your routine at least three times a week, if not five. However, it’s important to tailor the frequency and duration to your current fitness level and health condition.

“If you have been sedentary, start with just three to five minutes,” Dr. Catic advises. “You may benefit from breaking it into multiple chunks. Instead of doing 15 minutes of chair exercises at once, you could do five minutes, three times a day, three times a week.” 

While you don’t need a special chair for these exercises, the one you use should be sturdy. Avoid using folding chairs or chairs with wheels or rollers. For most exercises, armless chairs are best. If your chair is on a smooth surface, consider backing it up to a wall to prevent slipping. “Think more of a traditional kitchen or dining room chair, not a soft cushion chair that you’re going to sink into,” says Dr. Catic.

See also: Exercise Snacks Are the Secret to Healthy – And You Only Need 1 Minute to Get the Perks!

The best chair exercises for seniors

Here are some structured chair exercises for seniors that our expert recommend to help improve your strength, flexibility and balance:

Chair exercises for cardio conditioning

1. Chair marches 

This simple exercise mimics walking, but does so without the added weight and pressure on your joints.

  1. Sit comfortably in a chair with your back straight.
  2. Lift one knee as high as you can, then lower it.
  3. Repeat with the other knee, marching in place.
  4. Continue marching for 2-3 minutes.

Related: Your Back Pain May Actually Be Caused by Uneven Hips — And These Exercises Can Help

2. Seated jumping jacks

When you’re ready for a challenge, this vigorous exercise offers more advanced cardiac conditioning.

  1. Sit in a chair with your back straight.
  2. Extend your arms out to the sides and legs out to the sides simultaneously.
  3. Bring them back to the starting position.
  4. Repeat for 1-2 minutes.

Chair exercises for strength and balance

1. Knee extensions

This chair exercise strengthens your legs and core to support you with every step.

  1. Sit comfortably in a chair with your hips as far back as possible.
  2. Keep your core tight and chest out.
  3. Extend one leg in front of you until fully extended.
  4. Slowly lower your leg back to the starting position.
  5. Repeat for both legs. Perform 2-3 sets of 8-12 reps.

2. Seated bicep curls

Bolster your arm strength with a pair of lightweight dumbbells, water bottles or soup cans.

  1. Grab a pair of dumbbells or a resistance band.
  2. If using a resistance band, slide it under the seat, or sit on it, until it’s at an equal length on either side of the body.
  3. Sit comfortably in a chair with your hips as far back as possible.
  4. Keep your core tight and chest out.
  5. Keep both arms to the sides of you body, let them hang naturally with both palms facing forward and elbows tucked at the sides of your body.
  6. Move both forearms in a curling motion from the sides of the body to the front of the shoulders (you don’t have to touch your hands to your shoulders for full range of motion).
  7. While keeping tension, slowly lower both forearms back to the starting position.

3. Seated calf raises

The calf muscles are easy to overlook in traditional exercises, but this chair routine keeps them strong.

  1. Sit comfortably in a chair with your hips as far back as possible.
  2. Keep your core tight and chest out.
  3. Place both hands at the sides of your chair and grip the seat to keep stable.
  4. Keep both legs at a 90-degree angle with the chair. Both feet should be flat on the floor.
  5. Slowly, extend the heels of your feet upward, pushing the toes on the ground and lifting the heels in the air.
  6. Place both feet back to the starting position.
  7. Repeat this movement for 20 or more reps to create a “burning” feeling in the calves.

Chair exercise for core strength

Tummy twists

This well-rounded exercise targets the entire core and can aid in stretching the spine. 

  1. Sit comfortably in a chair with your hips back as far as possible.
  2. Keep your core tight and chest out.
  3. Hold a medicine ball (or similar object) in front of you.
  4. Rotate your upper body to the right, keeping the ball in front of you as you turn.
  5. Rotate back to the center, then to the left, and back to the center.
  6. Perform 2-3 sets of 8-10 reps.

Chair exercise for posture and flexibility

Staff pose (aka dandasana)

  1. Sit at the front edge of a stable chair.
  2. Place your hands on the sides of the chair seat for support.
  3. Extend your legs out in front of you, and — if you feel comfortable and balanced — raise your arms upward or out to your side.
  4. Sit up tall, lengthening your spine and lifting your chest.
  5. Hold for 10 seconds, then return your arms to your side and your feet to the floor.
  6. Repeat 2-3 times.

Safety considerations when doing chair exercises

Before starting any exercise routine, getting clearance from your medical provider is important. “If you’ve had any sort of recent surgery or a significant illness, or you just have questions about how exercises could be modified to meet your needs, consult with a clinician,” Dr. Catic says. “That can be any number of medical providers, including nurse practitioners, physicians, physician assistants or physical or occupational therapists.”

For more simple exercises to improve your health and happiness:

Why Low-Impact Exercise May Be the Secret to Easing Depression

Exercise Snacks Are the Secret to Healthy – And You Only Need 1 Minute to Get the Perks!

Fitness Experts Reveal the Best Time to Work Out + Easy Hacks That Boost the Benefit of Any Exercise

This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.

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