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Guide to Exercises for Seniors

You probably have a bunch of activities on a daily basis. Some are fun and others are vital. For about half-hour a day, you should do some exercise to stay fit. This article will take you through stretching, balance and low impact exercises including chair exercises.

Later we will take a closer look at core exercises, which are some of the most important exercises for seniors. Good core helps prevent injury and improves balance and stability. At the end of this article, you will be able to discover some strength and cardio exercises. So, let’s start with stretching.

Stretching Exercises

Are you able to move as easily as you used to? If you can’t, don’t worry. It comes to us all as we get older. But, that doesn’t mean we have to give up. Stretching is one of the best exercises you can do and one of the easiest too. You don’t need any specialist equipment and if you can’t stand for long, then do it sitting down! The last piece of advice is to do each exercise every day for as long as you can.

Warming up

You can’t just go from doing nothing to full-on exercise without your body becoming accustomed. You wouldn’t jump in your car and immediately put your foot to the floor, would you? You’d let the car warm up first. Your body isn’t any different.

Do some gentle walking across the room and swing your arms around in a circle for at least five minutes. You’ll soon feel a gentle warmth flowing around your body. This is oxygenated blood flooding the moving muscles and is vital before doing any type of exercise.

Equipment

Some exercises need you to stand and others need a straight-backed chair.

Now, don’t assume you can’t reach your toes. Use a yoga strap, which is useful and inexpensive. Loop them around parts of the body to help move parts you can’t reach. If you haven’t got one of those, use a scarf with the free ends tied together instead.

Neck side stretch

This is a really simple exercise and great if you wake up with a stiff neck or shoulders from sleeping awkwardly.

  1. Sit upright in your chair and warm-up by gently leaning your head to one side, then the other.
  2. Lift your right arm over your head and place your palm against the left-hand side of your head.
  3. Gently pull your head to the right until you feel the stretch. Hold for about 30 seconds.
  4. Repeat using the other side.

Shoulder stretch

Sitting for a long time can make your shoulders slump forward and ache. Eventually, your posture will suffer. So, use this exercise to remedy a bad posture.

  1. Stand up straight with your arms loosely by your side.
  2. Reach behind and clasp your hands together.
  3. When you feel the stretch, hold it there. If not then gently move your hands away from your back until you do.
  4. Hold for about 30 seconds and unclasp your hands, returning to the initial position.
  5. Repeat.

Standing quadriceps stretch

Now your legs. Sitting and hunching forward too much causes pain and bad posture. Stretching the large muscle at the front of your thigh will help with this.

  1. Stand up straight and hold onto something for balance.
  2. Bend your right knee and hold your foot (use a looped scarf or yoga strap if you can’t reach).
  3. Hold for 30 seconds, then repeat using the other leg.

Ankle stretch

Keeping your balance is mostly down to strong ankles. You don’t want to fall and stumble and this exercise will help.

  1. Sit in an upright chair with both feet on the floor.
  2. Extend your right leg out in front and rotate your foot clockwise for 10 circles, then do it counter-clockwise.
  3. Lower your leg to rest position and repeat using the other foot.

Balance exercises

Tightrope walk

Okay, this is so simple and will help your body with balance and posture. Best of all, it needs no equipment so can be done just about anywhere.

  1. Hold your arms out from your sides, making sure they are parallel to the floor.
  2. Walk across the room in a straight line lifting your feet and pausing for a second or two before placing it back on the floor.
  3. Try to keep your feet in-line as you walk across the room.
  4. Keep your eyes fixed on a spot on the opposite wall.

Easy right? Sure it is, but make sure you have someone with you to count your steps and to catch you in case you topple over sideways.

Walking on the spot

This is another easy one, and once again needs no equipment. But if you are serious about this exercise do consider a walking treadmill.

  1. Stand in a natural position with both feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Lift one foot and hold for as long as you can.
  3. Place the foot back down on the floor.
  4. Repeat with the other foot.
  5. Do this five times on each foot.

Heel to toe

Another good one needing no equipment. However, you might find balancing a bit tricky so have a friend with you.

  1. Stand with your back against a wall.
  2. Place one foot in front of the other so the heel is against the toe.
  3. Continue walking across the room putting your weight on your heel. Do this for a maximum of 20 steps.
  4. Focus on a location on the opposite wall to help keep stable.

Flamingo

This exercise is good for posture and balance. Although it’s relatively simple you might need some support with this one.  Therefore, hang onto a chair or a door handle to keep safe. Also, try to keep your shoulders, neck, head and back straight.

  1. Stretch one leg forwards as far as you can go.
  2. Stand motionless for about fifteen seconds.
  3. Return the foot to the ground.
  4. Repeat five times.
  5. Pause for five seconds and repeat everything using the other foot.

When you’re used to this, try to reach your raised foot with your free hand. Yes, I know that’s difficult, but at least have a go!

Back leg raise

OK, let’s try something a bit different. This one will help your posture, improve balance and increase your leg strength.

  1. Stand behind a chair with enough room to lift your leg behind you.
  2. Without bending your knees, lift your leg behind you as far as it’ll go.
  3. Stay with it for a couple of seconds and bring your leg back to its start position.
  4. Repeat this for the other leg.
  5. Repeat fifteen times for each leg.

Side leg raise

If you can do the Back Leg Raise then this one will be really easy. Just repeat the previous exercise but lifting your leg to the side rather than behind.  As you get better with this one so you’ll find that you can lift your legs higher.

Wall pushups

This one is really easy and a favorite exercise for seniors to improve balance and upper body strength. All you need is to stand arm’s length from and facing a wall.

  1. Lean forward and place your palms against the wall. Don’t forget to keep both feet firmly on the floor.
  2. Bend your arms so your shoulders approach the wall.
  3. Push yourself upright so that your arms are fully extended.
  4. Repeat about twenty times.

Low impact exercises

Luckily, there are plenty of exercises to give muscles and the heart a good workout without otherwise damaging the body. Forget the continual pounding of sports such as aerobics, running, tennis, soccer, and others. Instead, have a go at an exercise that will gently increase the heart rate and blood flow.

These are called ‘low impact’ exercises, but you shouldn’t confuse low impact with low-intensity. Most low impact workouts are just as good at lowering the risk of heart disease as regular high impact activities. And they’ll make you just as tired as well!

While we’re talking about tiredness and exhaustion, don’t do too much so that you don’t enjoy the experience. A big part of exercising is the enjoyment of toning up your body and looking forward to the experience and your routine. Only do as much as you can cope with in your workout, but try to do more next time.

If you’re in any doubt as to the suitability of an exercise, consult your doctor beforehand.

Equipment

Many simple, low impact, exercise routines involve pushing or pulling against a resistance such as barbell weights or a resistance band. If you need to use weights within your exercise routine, don’t go and buy them. Simple alternatives include using canned food or full water bottles as hand-sized weights. If you have problems gripping items like this, simply put them inside a shopping bag and lift by holding the handle.

Some of the best low impact exercises include

Walking

As long as you have strong and supportive walking or running shoes, walking will increase your heart rate and provide much needed gentle exercise. Ideally, two or three miles will do you the most good, but if you can’t manage that, just do what you can.

RELATED: How can seniors improve walking?

Swimming

Water exercises are probably one of the best low impact exercises you can do. Swimming gently exercises just about all the muscles in your body without causing problems. And, you are supported at all times by water buoyancy.

Yoga

Although this might not seem a very energetic workout, yoga is especially great for seniors because it increases your flexibility, balance, and increases the strength of your core muscles. You don’t have to try the really difficult postures if you don’t want to. Simple stretches and breathing exercises will not only improve your fitness level but also improve your mood.

Tai Chi

Tai chi is a light exercise that can help seniors improve cardiovascular endurance, improve leg strength, flexibility, immune system, sleep and the ability to concentrate. It consists of elegant movements while deeply breathing. There are many free video exercises on the internet, you can also find tai chi DVDs on amazon.

Chair exercises

Many seniors have mobility problems so ‘sitting down’ exercises are a great way to build muscle, improve joint movement, and increase blood circulation. The added advantage is that most chair exercises need very little in the way of equipment and you can rest whenever you need. Let’s take a look at some common chair exercises, firs are wrist and ankle rolls.

Wrist and ankle rolls

This one is so easy to do and yet it seriously increases your wrist and ankle strength, as well as improving circulation in your hands and feet. These are also good as a warm-up for other more strenuous exercises.

  1. Sit upright on a straight backed chair, but don’t lean against the backrest.
  2. Flex the fingers on both hands, opening and closing your fist. Do this as many times as you can.
  3. Close the fist and rotate your wrists ten times clockwise and counter-clockwise.
  4. Flex and point each foot before flexing and curling the toes.
  5. Separately, roll each ankle clockwise and counter-clockwise ten times.

Calf raises

If you need better lower leg strength then this one is good and you can also do it sitting down.

  1. Sit in an upright chair with feet flat on the ground at about hip-distance apart. Look straight ahead.
  2. Using one leg, raise your heel while keeping your toes on the floor. Try to raise the leg as high as you can while still keeping your toes grounded.
  3. Lower the heel back to the floor and repeat ten times.
  4. Repeat, using the other leg.
  5. Repeat the sequence with both legs a total of three times.
  6. Lift both heels at the same time and hold for twenty seconds.
  7. Repeat this twenty times.

Sit & stands

I’ll bet the older seniors and those with mobility problems among you,  often have problems getting in and out of low and soft chairs. Well, this exercise can strengthen legs, improve balance and muscle control.

  1. Sit in a sturdy and firm chair, with your feet flat on the floor and hip-distance apart.
  2. Trying not to use hands or arms, tip forward from the hips.
  3. Push your weight down through the legs and feet into the floor and push to straighten the knees to stand.
  4. Extend the hips and knees so you are standing straight up.
  5. Reverse the sequence so you are once again sitting on the chair.

Don’t worry if you can’t do the complete sequence. Just lean forward and lift your buttocks from the chair. Then, hold for a few seconds before sitting down again. As you become better at this you will find that your strength and balance improve so you can do the full exercise.

Seated shoulder press

Although leg strength is important, don’t forget your upper body and shoulders too. This exercise is easy to do and you don’t need any expensive equipment.

It’s important to realize that exercises are a rehearsal for real-life events and this one is obviously good for helping to put items away on overhead shelves. You can use lightweight dumbbells, or hold full water bottles or canned food as a substitute during these exercises.

  1. Sit in an upright chair with feet flat on the floor.
  2. Hold your ‘weight’ in each hand at shoulder level. Keep elbows bent and palms facing away from your body.
  3. Push upwards, straightening your elbows.
  4. Lower your hands to the start position.
  5. Repeat ten times and have a short rest.
  6. Repeat the sequence twice more.

Core Exercises

Warming up

Before starting serious core exercises, ask your doctor for advice on which ones are suitable for your circumstances.

Always warm-up before attempting core exercises. The best and easiest way is to march on the spot for a few minutes while swinging your arms.

Always move slowly and gently when performing core exercises and only do as many as you feel comfortable doing.

Upper body push-ups

  1. Lie on your stomach with your hands at shoulder level, palms against the floor.
  2. Push against the floor and raise your head, shoulders and upper body as high as you can while keeping your head up and looking forward.
  3. Carry on pushing until your arms are fully extended, or as far as you can go.
  4. Lower your body to the floor.
  5. Repeat the sequence as many times as possible.

If you aren’t used to this kind of exercise you’ll probably find it very difficult to complete. If that’s the case, try to do as much as you can to build up your strength.

Seated knee lifts

If you can manage it, sit on the floor while doing this exercise. If you can’t get down there, try sitting on your bed.

  1. Sit on the floor with your legs stretched out in front.
  2. Draw your feet up so your knees move towards your chest.
  3. When they are as far as they can go, return your legs to their start position.
  4. Repeat this sequence fifteen times.
  5. Slowly build up to three sets of fifteen.

Lumbar rotation

This is a good exercise but is also quite easy to accomplish, even if it’s only partially done. The exercise strengthens your hips, thighs and lower-back muscles.

  1. Lie on the floor on your back (or on top of your bed).
  2. Bend your legs and place your knees on the floor to the left.
  3. Keeping shoulders on the floor, place your arms straight out and extended as far as you can go.
  4. Keeping everything above the waist motionless, gently roll your knees from the left side to the right side until they touch or get near to the floor.
  5. Hold this position for five seconds and return to the start position.

The bridge

This is another simple exercise to strengthen your core muscles.

  1. Lie flat on your back with legs straight.
  2. Tighten your core muscles and raise your hips. Do not arch your back.
  3. Hold the position for a few seconds and then lower your hips to the start position.
  4. Repeat the entire sequence.

Leg lifts

  1. Lie flat on your back with your legs straight.
  2. Tense your abdominal muscles and raise one foot about five inches from the floor.
  3. Hold the position for a few seconds and then lower your foot to the floor.
  4. Repeat with your other foot.

Believe it or not, this exercise is very tiring and you might find you can’t do more than a couple of sequences. Don’t worry, just do what you can and gradually build up to it.

Strength Exercises

Seniors, as they age, often lose muscle mass with the corresponding loss in strength. Maintaining your muscles mass with a total body workout is a great way to increase your overall strength, and if you are a senior it will improve your flexibility, balance and stability.

Getting started

You can’t just start exercising with weights and expect to look like Popeye. You must gradually ease into the regime, otherwise, you might pull a muscle and that will be painful.

Seniors usually have more than their fair share of health issues so before starting these exercises, see your doctor and get advice on the routine you expect to follow.

When you start exercising, move slowly and gently. There isn’t any rush so take your time. Start with the easy stuff and only increase the weights and resistance when you feel ready. Not before!

RELATED: Should seniors lift weights?

Before any type of exercise, you have to warm-up with five to ten minutes of cardio exercises. Try marching on the spot, swinging your arms.

Start each exercise without weights until you understand the form of the movement. Only do one set at a time for each exercise, adding another set at the start of each week. Finally, until you are used to it, have at least one rest day between exercise days. If you feel sore then have an extra rest day.

Equipment

Most exercises will need one or more of the following:

Unless you are very experienced with these routines, don’t buy expensive equipment. You can easily make do with home-made versions.

Yoga resistance bands are usually very inexpensive anyway as they’re just a length of stretchy rubber. Dumb-bells however, can be very pricey. At first, and until you are happy with the exercises, use canned food or full water bottles as a handy weight. Seniors often have problems gripping things securely. If that sounds familiar, drop the food cans into a shopping bag and hold them using the handle.

Many leg exercises require you to work against gravity, so a step-up will be ideal. If you can’t buy a purpose-made one, use the bottom two steps on your staircase at home or your front doorstep, whichever is easier to use.

Chairs should be the straight backed dining room type rather than a comfy armchair.

Chair squats

  1. Stand in front of the chair and relax.
  2. Bend knees, reach out in front of you with your arms for balance and move the hips backward.
  3. Sit down.
  4. As soon as you feel the chair, try to immediately stand using your leg muscles.
  5. Repeat twelve times.

You can make this easier by either holding your thighs for support or by using hand support or rail. You can also hold weights if you want to make it harder.

Knee lifts

Great for improving upper body strength and balance.

  1. Hold a weight (about 2 to 5 pounds) above your head using both hands.
  2. Lift right knee to waist level while lowering the weight until they touch.
  3. Lower knee and raise the weight to its original position.
  4. Repeat using the other leg and continue for about a minute.

You can vary the weight and the speed to make this one harder or easier. If you experience the pain in your knee, do consider a knee brace.

RELATED: How to prevent knee pain?

Side leg lifts

Improves balance and leg strength.

  1. Stand sideways to a chair and hold onto its back.
  2. Standing on one leg, lift the other out to the side without tilting the torso.
  3. Lower leg and repeat twelve times.
  4. Repeat the entire routine with the other leg.

Use a resistance band between the ankles or leg weights to make this harder.

Bicep curls

  1. Stand and hold weights in both hands. (Use between 5 and 15 pounds depending on your stature)
  2. Bending one arm at the elbow lift the weight until it reaches your shoulder.
  3. Lower the weight back to start position. Keep the weight controlled at all times and don’t swing it.
  4. Repeat twelve times.
  5. Repeat with the other arm.

Cardio exercises

These are just what you might think. Exercises designed to increase your heart rate and get the blood flowing through your body. The trouble is that most of these involve jumping or running in some form. Here we have a problem. Exercising like this involves putting severe pressure onto bone joints and connective tissues. If you’re young and fit, this shouldn’t be an issue but if you’re a senior you might have problems with it.

Seniors shouldn’t attempt cardio exercises without protecting bone joints and connective tissues. Many seniors suffer from chronic bone issues such as osteoarthritis or osteoporosis that are very painful if you don’t take care.

What’s next?

Exercise will improve the quality of your life, no matter how old you are. You don’t have to spend a ton of time doing it to feel improvements. Don’t stop being active, check other activities that are essential for seniors.

Walk every day, if you feel strong enough you should jog, don’t forget about cycling. Every one a while do consider swimming. You should exercise even if you use a mobility aid, check exercises with a walker.

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