10 Chair Exercises for Seniors, Recommended by Physical Therapists

When getting up to move isn’t an option, these chair exercises, recommended by physical therapists, can help improve mobility.

Published Date: Jul 10, 2024
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If you’ve noticed some weakness or mobility issues with age, there’s still a lot you can do to stay strong and fit. Chair exercises are an excellent way to challenge your body when injuries or balance issues make standing unassisted unsafe. Whether you’re hoping to get back to playing a favorite sport or just want to be able to walk longer distances or get off the couch with ease, these PT-approved chair exercises can help.

“Chair exercises can still provide a full-body workout,” says Sarah Kellen, PT, DPT, a physical therapist at Hinge Health. “They’re safe for almost everyone to do, and they can help you get stronger, more flexible, and build your endurance.”

Read on to learn about how these chair exercises for seniors, recommended by our Hinge Health physical therapists, can help improve your strength and stability.

Our Hinge Health Experts

Sarah Kellen, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist
Dr. Kellen is a Hinge Health Physical Therapist and board-certified orthopedic clinical specialist. She has a special interest in pregnancy and postpartum care.
Maureen Lu, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist and Clinical Reviewer
Dr. Lu is a Hinge Health physical therapist and board-certified orthopedic clinical specialist with over 17 years of clinical experience.

No matter your current level of activity, the following chair exercises can help improve your fitness as well as your confidence as you move around throughout your day.

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This simple move is a great way to build squatting and lifting strength. “Focus on controlling the lowering of your body rather than ‘plopping’ down into the chair,” says Dr. Kellen.

How to do it:

  • To begin, sit in a chair with your feet comfortably apart while holding your hands together in front of your chest. 

  • Now without using your hands, push through your feet to straighten your legs to come into standing, and hold in this position. 

  • Then bend your knees to sit into the chair with control.

This move helps build strength in the front of your thighs, which is crucial for getting through daily activities, like walking up and down stairs, with confidence.

How to do it:

  • Start by sitting comfortably in a chair.  

  • Then, move your foot toward the ceiling to straighten your leg. The back of your thigh should remain on the chair as you hold this position. Relax your foot back to the floor.

Got stiff knees? This will improve mobility in the joint as well as help build strength in the back of your thighs.

How to do it:

  • Start by standing with both hands resting on a sturdy surface like a table or chair. 

  • Next, lift one leg’s heel off the floor and move it toward your butt. 

  • Squeeze the muscles in the back of your leg while you hold this position. Now, lower your foot back to the floor.

If you have a hard time walking up and down stairs or getting your legs in and out of a car, this move will help. “For added core strengthening, try keeping your body off the back of the chair,” says Dr. Kellen.

How to do it:

  • Start by sitting comfortably in a chair. 

  • Next, let’s lift one knee up toward the ceiling. 

  • Reach your knee as high as comfortable, and hold this position. Then relax your foot back to the floor.

This move builds strength in the lower part of the leg, which helps for pushing off with your toes when you’re walking on flat surfaces or going up a flight of stairs.

How to do it:

  • Start by sitting in a chair with your feet flat on the floor. Your feet should line up underneath your knees. 

  • Now push evenly through your toes to lift your heels off of the floor. 

  • Then relax your heels back to the floor to return to the starting position.

This move builds upper body strength in the arms and chest, which is helpful for when you have to do pushing activities like pushing a shopping cart or opening a heavy door.

How to do it:

  • Start by sitting in a chair.

  • Loop a resistance band around your upper back and hold each end of the band with your hands.  

  • Your elbows are going to be bent to 90 degrees and should be relaxing at your side. 

  • Extend your arms straight out in front of you at chest height to stretch the band.

7. Seated Abdominal Bracing

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“A stronger trunk and core can help improve balance,” says Dr. Kellen. This move works some of the deeper core muscles.

How to do it:

  • Start by sitting upright in a chair with your feet flat on the floor. 

  • Now, squeeze your abdominal muscles. 

  • Continue to breathe with an even inhale and exhale as you hold your abdominals tight.

  • Then, relax your abdominals.

8. Seated Side Bend with Arms Raised

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This is a great stretch for back and arm mobility. “It can make daily activities that require bending and reaching much easier,” says Dr. Kellen.

How to do it:

  • Sit comfortably with your hands resting at your sides.

  • Bend towards one of your sides, and slide your hand down the chair and towards the floor while your opposite arm reaches overhead and toward the same side you are side bending. 

  • Return back to sitting tall and repeat on the other side.

9. Seated Hamstring Stretch

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Many seniors develop tightness in the back of the leg, which can cause discomfort and cramping. This will help improve flexibility in this area.

How to do it:

  • To begin, sit at the edge of a chair and straighten one leg out in front of you while resting your heel on the floor. 

  • Then, hinge at your hips to lean your chest toward the floor and hold. Return to the starting position.

This move improves mobility in the hips and stretches the glute muscles, which will make daily activities like putting on socks and shoes easier.

How to do it:

  • Start by sitting in a chair with one foot resting on your opposite thigh. Your other foot should be resting flat on the floor.

  • Now, hinge at your hips by moving your chest toward the floor until you feel a stretch in your leg or hip. 

  • Return to your starting position.

The information contained in these videos is intended to be used for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice or treatment for any specific condition. Hinge Health is not your healthcare provider and is not responsible for any injury sustained or exacerbated by your use of or participation in these exercises. Please consult with your healthcare provider with any questions you may have about your medical condition or treatment.

Benefits of Chair Exercises for Seniors

If you’re wondering if exercising in a chair is even worth your time, the answer is absolutely. “Chair exercises are a great way to get people who have been relatively sedentary moving again,” says Dr. Kellen. The potential benefits include:

  • Improve balance. Falls become more common in seniors and can be painful as well as debilitating. Chair-based exercises have been shown to promote better balance and, in turn, lower fall risk.

  • Strengthen muscles. Chair exercises can help you strengthen your core — crucial for balance — as well as your glutes, quads, and hamstrings. As a result, you’ll be able to walk further with greater ease, and you might even eventually find yourself getting back to activities like jogging or pickleball.

  • Promote good posture. Chair exercises that focus on stretching your upper body can help combat tightness in the chest, upper back, and neck. That can translate to less pain as well as a more upright posture.

  • Ease arthritis aches. By increasing flexibility in your upper and lower body, chair exercises can relieve common arthritis-related pain. This improved flexibility will also make daily tasks, like putting on your shoes, that much easier.

PT Tip: Don’t Skip “Sit to Stand”

“Even if your day is busy and you don't have time for a full exercise session, try to mix in some sit to stand exercises,” says Dr. Kellen. “This can be as simple as completing a set when you sit down at the kitchen table to eat breakfast or when you get to your office at work. This exercise targets a lot of muscles efficiently and has been shown to reduce the risk of falls.”

How Hinge Health Can Help You

If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you’ve been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program.

The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you.

Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition. Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you.

See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here.

This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.

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References

  1. Stutzman, L. (n.d.). Fall Prevention: Balance and Strength Exercises for Older Adults. Johns Hopkins Medicine. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/fall-prevention-exercises 

  2. 6 Muscle-Building Exercises You Can Do at Your Desk. (n.d.). Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved from https://health.clevelandclinic.org/desk-exercises 

  3. Sitting Exercises. (2024, January 18). NHS. https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/sitting-exercises/ 

  4. Exercises you can do sitting down. (n.d.). Versus Arthritis. Retrieved from https://versusarthritis.org/news/2023/september/exercises-you-can-do-sitting-down/