Best Chair Exercises for Seniors

Medically Reviewed by Ross Brakeville, DPT on March 23, 2023
5 min read

Fitness is the key to a better life as a senior, but many older people aren't getting the exercise they need. Only 15% of those between the ages of 65 and 74 say they engage in regular physical activity. If your main concern is maintaining your independence as you age, regular workouts can help. If you have chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease, staying active can be good medicine. And exercise can make you happier

When older adults lose fitness, it can be hard to regain. Just two weeks of inactivity can affect blood sugar and muscular condition in older adults, and the losses aren't recovered in two weeks of normal movement.

Chair exercises can be the answer for seniors who want to get fit but who worry about overdoing it or falling. Experts say that older adults need four types of exercise: endurance, balance, strength, and flexibility. You can easily incorporate all but balance exercises into your chair workout, and you should find that stronger muscles improve your balance. 

Traditionally, those who are working out are told to aim for a certain number of repetitions and a certain number of sets. Seniors, especially those who are beginning a fitness program, should pay more attention to the quality of their movements. If you can't maintain good posture and correct form, stop the exercise. You are more likely to injure yourself if you keep exercising with poor form. 

A chair workout can include standing exercises in which you hold on to a chair, but these are true seated exercises. Incorporate these into your exercise program:

Seated Jacks

Jumping jacks are a great aerobic exercise, but they can be hard on the joints and sometimes cause an involuntary loss of urine, which can be embarrassing. Fortunately, you can improve your endurance and strength with seated jacks. 

Step 1: Sit slightly forward in a chair. Don't get so close to the edge of your seat that you lose stability.
Step 2: Start with knees bent and feet together with arms resting at your side. 

Step 3: Extend the legs straight in a V position, heels touching, while you raise your arms upward, making a second V.

Step 4: Return to starting position and repeat. 

Your arms and legs will still be slightly bent even in the jack position. Start slowly and speed up as you master the move. If moving both arms and legs is too difficult, do a set with the arms and a set with the legs. You can go for a set number of repetitions or time yourself, but stop if you start to struggle or if your seating feels insecure. 

Seated Shoulder Press

This is a functional exercise that will help you with tasks such as reaching items in overhead cupboards. If you don't have weights, you can use water bottles or cans of food.

Step 1: Sit far back in your chair with your back against the back of the chair.
Step 2: Holding your weights, form a "goalpost" position with your elbows forming a right angle and your arms in the same plane as your trunk.

Step 3: Slowly push the weights up until the arms are almost straight. 

Step 4: Slowly bring the arms back to the goalpost position and repeat. 

Control the movement of the weights through the whole exercise. If your weights are very light, increase the number of repetitions.


This is another functional exercise because it's a movement that we do often in our everyday lives. 

Step 1: Sit slightly forward in a chair with your feet under you about shoulder-width apart.
Step 2: Lean slightly forward with the back straight and slowly stand up, extending the arms forward for balance. 

Step 3: Reverse the motion and sit down, using the hands to locate the seat of the chair if you need to.  

Step 4: Return to starting position and repeat.

If you have difficulty doing the entire movement, try standing halfway before you sit back down. You may be able to do only a few sit-to-stands at first. If you have progressed so that it is easier, try doing it while holding a light weight or small medicine ball. You can also make it harder by keeping the arms crossed over the chest as you perform the movement.

Seated Hip Stretch

The hips are a problem area for many seniors. A lack of hip flexibility can affect your gait and cause knee pain and other issues. This chair exercise targets the hip flexors.

Step 1: Sit comfortably in your chair with your spine straight.
Step 2: Cross one leg over the other so that the ankle is resting just above the knee, forming a triangle. 

Step 3: Keeping the back straight, lean slightly forward, holding that position for a few seconds.

Step 4: Return to a sitting position, then repeat the movement with the other leg. 

You may not feel as if you are accomplishing anything with this exercise, as you may be able to lean forward only a few inches. It can still have a big impact on your hip flexibility. Repeat it a few times for maximum benefit, but stop if you have any pain.

Extended Leg Raises

A lack of core strength can lead to muscle strains and other injuries. Although this chair exercise uses the legs, you are actually strengthening the core.

Step 1: Sit comfortably but securely near the edge of your chair and stretch the legs straight in front of you, toes pointed up.
Step 2:  Gripping the seat of the chair with your hands, raise one leg off the floor. Lift it as high as the hip if possible.

Step 3: Lower that leg slowly to the ground, then lift and lower the other leg. 

You can also do several reps with one leg before moving to the other leg. If you can lift the leg only a few inches off the ground, that's okay. Your core is still working. 

You don't need a special chair for chair exercises, but the one you use should be sturdy. Don't use a folding chair or one with wheels or rollers. For most exercises, armless chairs are best. If your chair is sitting on a smooth surface, you may need to back it up to a wall so it can't slip.

Don't exercise if you are not feeling well. Talk to your doctor if you have chest pain, balance problems, nausea, dizziness, or trouble breathing while exercising. If you have painfully sore muscles the day after your workout, you may have exercised too hard.