A senior woman smiles at a camera, wearing a tshirt and towel around her neck. She's holding a water bottle.

Exercising is important for everyone, but staying active as you age is especially critical. Regular exercise helps us maintain our mobility and the health of our joints as we age. In fact, the CDC recommends that adults aged 65 and over get 150 minutes per week of exercise. That’s about 30 minutes per day, five days per week. Even if your mobility level decreases, you can still do physical activity. Below, we’re describing chair exercises for seniors that target various muscle groups, which can help activate your muscles and stretch different parts of your body.

Please keep in mind that everyone’s exercise capacity is different. Start slowly and create a health regimen that fits your needs to avoid injury. You should also speak with your doctor to ensure the exercises you’d like to do are safe for your specific circumstances.

Shoulder chair exercise

Many people think that exercise must include weights of some kind. However, using only your body weight can also be very effective. This shoulder press exercise can be done with a weight, but your arms also have weight to them. Using only the weight of your arms can also provide a great opportunity to activate your muscles. We’re describing this movement that requires only your body weight.

How to do a shoulder press

  • Sit in a chair with the small of your back against the back of the chair, your knees spread shoulder-width apart, and your back straight. Look straight ahead.
  • Lift your arms to make a straight line from your hands to your elbows, upper arms, and shoulders.
  • Lift your hands, so your forearms make “L” shapes with your upper arms. Your palms should point straight ahead.
  • Point your chest muscles straight ahead to ensure you are sitting up as straight as possible without straining your back.
  • Reach your arms up and over your head until they are stretched in two parallel, vertical lines. Your palms should still face straight ahead.
  • Bending at your elbows, lower your forearms and hands back to the “L” positions. Your elbows, upper arms, and shoulders should be in a straight line, perpendicular to your forearms and hands.
  • Repeat five to seven times. 
  • Stop the exercise if this movement hurts your shoulders, neck, or back.

Bicep chair exercise

Our biceps are the muscles on the front of our upper arms. Keeping these muscles strong can help us pick up objects and move them closer to us. Here is an exercise to help maintain strength in our arms.

How to do a bicep curl chair exercise

  • Sit in a chair with the small of your back against the back of the chair, your knees spread shoulder-width apart, and your back straight. Look straight ahead.
  • Let your arms hang at your sides naturally, being careful not to lock your elbows straight. Then, turn your hands, so your palms point ahead of you. You can leave your palms open or close them into soft fists.
  • Bending at your elbows and keeping your wrists straight, bring your hands toward your shoulders, stopping at about a 45-degree angle.
  • Lower your hands back down to the naturally handing position. Do not drop your hands or lock your elbows too quickly, as that can cause injury or pain. 
  • Repeat eight to 10 times.

Tip: Pay attention to your back as you lift and lower your arms. Avoid moving your back if you’re leaning backward or forward. Keeping your back in place and moving only your arms means that your biceps are being engaged and your back is not chipping in to do the work.

Core chair exercises

The core is important to everything we do throughout the day. Think of these muscles as those in your torso. We use our core when we stand, bend over, walk, and even when we are sitting. If we don’t use our core to keep our backs straight, we might end up hunching, leading to muscle tension and other problems.

Knee-to-chest chair exercise

This exercise will activate your core and quad muscles, which are the large muscles on the front of your thighs.

How to do the knee-to-chest exercise 

  • Sit on the edge of a chair with enough of your rear on the seat so you do not feel like you will fall off. Sit up straight, and hold the side edges of the chair if you need support.
  • Maintain a firm core and an upright posture. You can do this by tightening your abdominal muscles, pointing your chest muscles ahead, and looking straight ahead.
  • Ensure that both feet are firmly planted on the ground.
  • Slowly lift your left knee straight up and move toward your torso. Keep your leg bent.
  • Stop when you feel the back of your thigh lifted from the seat. Try to hold this position for a count of three.
  • Slowly lower your leg back and place your foot firmly on the ground.
  • Repeat this movement with your right leg.
  • Do this movement eight to ten times with each leg.
  • If any part of this movement is painful, stop immediately.

Sitting twist chair exercise

This is an effective core exercise for the whole body and can also help stretch the spine.

How to do a sitting twist

  • Sit in a chair, so the small of your back does not touch the back of the chair; sit with your back straight. Your knees should be spread shoulder-width apart, and you look straight ahead.
  • Keep your abdominal muscles tight to support your back
  • Turn your shoulders to the right as far as you feel comfortable. Your gaze should follow your shoulders so that your neck is not bending to the left as you turn.
  • Keep your hands on the tops of your thighs as you turn to help balance. If your flexibility allows, you can try putting your right arm over the top of the back of the chair for added stretch.
  • Hold your position and inhale deeply for four counts, then breathe out for four counts.
  • Release the chair if you’re holding it with your right hand, and slowly turn back, so your body is facing forward.
  • Repeat this movement to the left side.
  • Complete this movement for each side of the body two to three times.

Leg chair exercises

Leg exercises are important to keep the mobility of our legs, maintain their strength, and help maintain balance. Doing leg exercises in a chair can accomplish these tasks while engaging in movement more safely.

Seated knee extension chair exercise

This movement will help you strengthen your quad muscles, which at the muscles on the front of your thighs.

How to do a seated knee extension chair exercise

  • Sit in a chair with the small of your back against the back of the chair, your knees spread shoulder-width apart, your back straight, and look straight ahead.
  • You may want to grasp the side edges of the chair to help you balance.
  • Begin to straighten your left leg in front of you by lifting your foot and bringing your toes toward the ceiling. Keep your foot flexed so it is at a 90-degree angle with your shin. 
  • Stop when your leg is straight out in front of you or as high as is comfortable for you. You may also feel a stretch in your calf muscle.
  • Hold this position for a count of three.
  • If the movement is available, you can point your toes and then flex again for added stretch.
  • Gently lower your leg and place your foot on the floor in the original position.
  • Repeat this movement with your right leg.
  • Repeat this exercise three to five times with each leg.

The bottom line about chair exercises for seniors

Individuals should never push themselves too hard when doing any of the above exercises. Pay attention to your body and listen when you feel anything more painful than a healthy stretch. When you do chair exercises within your mobility range in proper form and with supervision as required, you can help your circulation, muscle strength and stamina, and mental health. If you’re not sure which exercises are right for you, talk with your doctor so they can make recommendations that are appropriate for your body.