chair exercises for elderly

Chair exercises: the BEST guide for seniors

4 min read |
Alistair Clay Author

Author 22.05.2023

Alistair Clay

Chair exercises allow you to get all the benefits of movement without the risk of falls or having to put your body in compromising positions.

If you have balance issues or reduced mobility, chair exercises are the perfect modification.

All you need is a solid, comfortable chair that allows you to sit up straight and move your arms.

Here we give you the low down on a range of chair exercises that you can do on a daily basis to stretch and strengthen your muscles.

Here’s a summary of what we’ll cover:

  • Using a chair allows you to get the benefits of exercise without running the risk of falls.
  • Ensure you are exercising in a way that suits your ability. This should be in a safe environment.
  • While you are looking after your muscles and joints, the movement helps with blood flow and heart health.
  • There are many exercises to stretch and strengthen your muscles that can be performed from the safety of a chair. 
Adapting exercises for senior bodies

Adapting exercises for senior bodies

As we age our muscles begin to deteriorate. Though this varies person to person, this can be due to natural genetic factors as well as lack of use.       

Some people will have exercised their whole life, while others can’t bear the thought of it.    

Whatever your position, it is still important to exercise regularly to keep our bodies moving and functioning properly as we get older.

You can always do something

While walking and standing exercises might be out of the question for some people due to strength and mobility issues, this should not deter you from helping your body in other ways. 

You can still build strength from the safety of a sturdy chair, adapting simple exercises from standing to seated, and from movement to static. 

While all you need is a chair for these exercises, (just like chair yoga for seniors) you may want to add a resistance band or some light weights.

Just remember that every body is different and it may take you some time to adapt to new exercises. 

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How can seniors exercise safely?

It is important to take care when you are exercising as an older person, especially when you are just starting out.

Some of the movements might be unfamiliar and tricky to do at first, but remember that all your hard work will pay off through feeling better and stronger in mind and body. 

When completing the exercises, don’t strain your muscles or push yourself further than you feel comfortable.

Maybe warm up with some morning stretches first.

Those with existing health problems and significantly reduced balance or mobility must take extra care during exercise sessions.

How can seniors exercise safely

Get a training buddy

It is advisable that another person, such as a carer or family remember, monitors the exercise session and can be on hand to help if needed.  

As exercise burns calories and builds muscle, it is important to stay hydrated, not only throughout the session, but during the whole day. 

In addition to this, small regular meals help to stabilise blood sugar and provide energy throughout the day.

What are the benefits of exercising for seniors

What are the benefits of exercising for seniors?

There are many benefits to be had from exercise, especially as you get older. 

Whether or not you have exercised in the past, it is important to adapt to your body as it is, not as it was.

As you age and your body changes, it might be necessary to focus on different areas or issues when you exercise, in order to do it safely. 

Any form of exercise brings both physical and mental benefits, generally making you feel good and keeping the brain active

chair exercises for seniors build strength and flexibility

Muscles, joints and bones

These types of chair exercises for seniors build strength and flexibility. 

This is especially important as you get older as age-related changes can contribute to fatigue, weakness and reduced ability to exercise.

Muscles shrink in size and get weaker due to reduced muscle tissue which is replaced by fibrous tissue if not used.

Some changes to the nervous system also reduce the ability to contract muscles making certain movements hard or impossible. 

Stay flexible

Joints are also affected by age, becoming stiffer and less flexible because the amount of lubricating fluid inside your joints decreases and the cartilage becomes thinner. 

This is exacerbated by lack of exercise, as without movement, the lubricating fluid is not able to work properly on the joints. 

Furthermore, bones get weaker with age, due to loss of bone tissue.

This makes older people more prone to breaking a bone as a result of a fall, causing undue stress and time in hospital.

exercise improves mental and emotional health

Mental and emotional health

Exercise changes the levels of chemicals in the brain, increasing the happy hormone serotonin, producing endorphins and reducing stress hormones. 

It also makes you feel good knowing that you are looking after your body, as well as achieving something you set out to do. 

Expect to see positive changes in your mood when exercising regularly.

Energy levels

Exercise increases your energy levels, in turn this has positive implications for sleep health. 

Factoring in time for exercise within your day or week also helps to establish a routine. 

This is important for anyone who struggles with a sleep condition or dementia sundowning.

get started with chair yoga

Chair exercises for seniors

In this section, we will take you through a range of chair exercises that work the arms, core and chest, legs and then a number of stretches you can do before and after you exercise. 

Each of these exercises requires you to complete repetitions.

Always start with lower reps to get used to the exercise and gradually increase as you feel comfortable.

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All of these exercises can be done with light weights or a resistance band for an extra challenge. 

Seated shoulder press

Start with your hands by your shoulders and push up. Lower and repeat. 

Seated front raise

Start with your hands on the tops of your thighs with palms facing down. Raise your arms to eye level. Lower and repeat. 

Seated lateral raise

Start with your arms down by your sides. Lift your arms up to create a T shape with your body. Lower and repeat. 

Seated chest press

Start with your hands at shoulder height with elbows to your side. Push your arms out in front of you in a rowing motion. Bend your elbows out to the side as you draw your hands back in. 

Seated bicep curls

Start with your arms bent so hands are at thigh level with palms facing up. Keeping your arms straight, curl your fist up towards your shoulder, engaging the bicep. 

open elbows

Core and chest

Reach back

Lean slightly forwards and sweep your arms behind you, keeping the palms facing up. You should feel this stretch across the chest. 

Open elbows close elbows

Place your hands on the back of your head with elbows sticking out to the sides. Squeeze your elbows towards each other and release back to the side. 

Seated Russian twists

Sit up straight in your chair and actively engage the core by drawing the belly button in. Once your core is engaged, twist from the core to one side and then the other. You can use a single weight to increase the challenge. 

Seated forward roll downs

Sit on the chair with your legs extended straight out in front of you. Bend forward with the arms and let the body follow. Allow yourself to roll down towards your toes. 

Seated side crunch

With hands behind your head and elbows out to the side, bring your elbow towards your hip on the same side. Making a small bend through your side body. Complete reps on one side before moving to the other. 

Seated leg lifts

Sit up in a tall, neutral position. Gently lift one leg, extending it out in front of you. Repeat on the other leg. For a greater challenge, try lifting both legs at the same time.

seated leg march


Single leg calf raises

Sit up in a tall, neutral position with your feet on the floor. Start with one leg first. Keeping the ball of your foot on the floor, lift the heel about an inch off the floor to feel a contraction in your calf.

Repeat reps on this leg before moving to the other side. If you are up for an extra challenge, try both legs at the same time. 

Sit and stand

From your neutral sitting position engage all your muscles to bring yourself to a standing position.

Then sit down in a controlled way and repeat. If you are worried about your balance, try this exercise with somebody supporting you or with a rail or wall nearby. 

Seated leg marches

Starting in your neutral sitting position lift one leg and then the other off the floor to create a marching effect. 

Heel slides

This exercise may work better on a smooth floor surface, however ensure that you are not at risk of slipping over when walking.

Starting in your neutral sitting position, slowly slide one foot out in front of you so that the leg is fully extended. Retract and repeat. 

neck side stretch


Ankle stretch

Starting in your neutral sitting position, lift one leg off the floor and flex the ankle back and forth. Hold on to the side of your chair for extra support. 

Neck roll

Sit up tall with shoulders down. Gently make small circles with your neck.

You can imagine drawing circles in the air with your nose, starting slow and gradually getting bigger for a greater range of movement. 

Neck side stretch

Sit up tall with shoulders down. Gently tilt your neck to each side.

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Alistair Clay Author

Author 22.05.2023

Alistair Clay

Alistair is a founding Director of Sweet Pea Care and the Managing Director of social care communications agency Arc Seven where he advises some of the UK’s biggest care providers.