group of seniors exercising

Top 11 Chair Exercises for Seniors

Exercising regularly as we age has many benefits, from lowering our risk for heart disease and stroke to reducing chronic pain, improving sleep quality, and even making us happier. Yet, despite these benefits, “Only 35-44% of adults 75 years or older are physically active, and 28-34% of adults 65-74 are physically active,” according to statistics reported by the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness & Nutrition.

While the CDC’s physical activity guidelines recommend 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity a week, many older people have physical challenges, injuries, or chronic conditions that can make regular exercise difficult, if not impossible.

But, even if you have physical challenges, it’s still possible to get regular exercise that is safe, easy on the joints, and beneficial for your whole body. Check out our roundup of the top 11 chair exercises for seniors to help you increase strength, stabilize muscles, increase circulation, and gain flexibility to make every day activities easier. Just be sure to check with your doctor before beginning any regular exercise program.

Seated Stretching Exercises

Gentle stretches and movements help you maintain flexibility and prevent injuries. Here are some great chair stretches to get you started.

Spine Stretcher

This tension-relieving stretch is a great way to stretch out your spine and rib cage.

  1. Sit up straight in a sturdy chair with both feet flat on the floor.
  2. Raise both arms straight into the air like you are signaling a field goal at a football game.
  3. With your arms up, keep reaching as high as you can. You should feel the stretch in your spine.
  4. Next, alternate arms, reaching with the left arm and then the right arm like you are climbing a rope. You’ll feel the stretch in both your rib cage and spine.
  5. Repeat the alternating movement ten to twenty times on each side.

Seated Row

This gentle seated row exercise will stretch your chest muscles and upper back.

  1. Sit on the edge of a sturdy, armless chair with your feet flat on the floor and your back straight.
  2. Hold both arms out in front of you with your elbows bent and your thumbs pointing up.
  3. Pull your elbows back while squeezing your shoulder blades together gently.
  4. Return to the starting position.
  5. Repeat this movement eight to ten times.

Knee Extensions

These gentle knee extensions will help strengthen the muscles surrounding your knees, as well as other muscles throughout your legs.

  1. Sit straight on a sturdy armless chair, holding on to the sides of the chair for support.
  2. Extend your right leg out in front of you with your toes pointing upward. Your knee should remain slightly bent, not locked.
  3. Lower your leg to the starting position. Repeat eight to ten times.
  4. Repeat the above steps for your left leg.


While you’ll use a chair for this exercise, this is one where you won’t be seated. Doing plies will help to stretch and strengthen your lower body and improve balance.

  1. Place a sturdy chair against the wall with the back of the chair facing you.
  2. Hold the back of the chair with both hands, standing with your legs slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Point your toes outward.
  3. Bend your knees slowly, taking a full two seconds to lower yourself. Make sure your knees don’t pass your toes as you bend. You can adjust your legs to a wider stance if you need to.
  4. Return to the starting position.
  5. Perform this movement eight times, then rest for five minutes.
  6. Perform one more set, doing as many plies as you can with good form.

Build Endurance with Seated Jumping Jacks

Jumping jacks are one of the best ways to get your heart rate up and provide a full-body workout, but they aren’t a practical option for most seniors. However, doing seated jumping jacks can provide many of the same cardiovascular benefits, without jarring your joints.

Building endurance through seated jumping jacks can help you keep gardening, playing golf, keeping up with your grandchildren, and going about your everyday routine with more ease.

  1. To start, sit at the front of a sturdy chair. Your knees should be bent with your arms resting at your sides.
  2. Extend your legs out to the sides – they should be straight and spread widely. Place your heels on the floor and raise your arms to form a V above your head.
  3. Bring your arms and legs back to center.
  4. Perform this motion repeatedly for at least 10 minutes to get a great aerobic workout.

Looking for a great full-body chair workout that takes less than 10 minutes? Check out this chair workout video with gentle moves to get you started.

Seated Strength Exercises

Strength training exercises can help increase lean muscle mass, making it easier to sit and stand, push, pull, and perform many daily activities. Here are a few gentle seated strength training exercises to help you stay strong.

Wrist and Ankle Rolls

This exercise not only strengthens your wrists and ankles, it will also improve the circulation to your hands and feet.

  1. Sit up straight on a sturdy, armless chair. Your back should not lean against the chair back.
  2. Open and close your hands several times, alternately opening your hands and making a fist.
  3. Close your hands into fists and slowly roll your wrists ten times.
  4. Roll your wrists in the opposite direction ten times.
  5. Next, flex and point each of your feet as you curl and straighten your toes.
  6. Roll each ankle to the outside ten times. Repeat by rolling your ankle to the inside.
  7. Repeat with the other ankle.

Single-Leg Calf Raises

These easy seated calf raises will help increase strength and mobility throughout your lower legs.

  1. Sit tall in a sturdy, armless chair with your feet flat on the floor about hip-width apart. Engage your core and look straight in front of you.
  2. Lift your right heel up from the floor and raise it as high as you can while keeping your toes on the floor. You should feel your calf engage as you do the exercise.
  3. Lower your heel back to the floor and repeat this movement ten times.
  4. Repeat with the left leg.
  5. Do three sets of 10 repetitions per leg.

For a more challenging workout, add two more sets of ten repetitions, lifting both heels at the same time. On the last repetition of the last set, hold your heels up from the floor for twenty seconds.

Sit and Stand

While we often take sitting and standing for granted when we’re younger, this move can be difficult for seniors, especially from soft sofas or low chairs. But you can improve your sitting and standing abilities by practicing this simple exercise on a regular basis.

  1. Sit up straight on a sturdy, armless chair with your feet flat on the floor about hip-width apart.
  2. Engage your core and lean forward from your hips.
  3. Press your weight throughout your feet, pushing yourself to a standing position, while extending your knees and hips fully.
  4. Now reverse the movement, pressing your hips back, then bending your knees to gently lower yourself back to your seat.
  5. If you aren’t able to press all the way to a standing position, shift your weight forward to lift your bum slightly away from the chair seat, then hold for a second before lowering yourself back to your seat. Using this exercise regularly will help you build the strength and balance you need to come to a full standing position.
  6. Repeat the sit and stand movement 10 times or as many times as you can with perfect form.

Seated Shoulder Press

The seated shoulder press is a practical exercise that can help make performing everyday tasks such as putting items away in cupboards or reaching for things on high shelves much easier. You can perform this exercise with or without light weight dumbbells, canned goods, water bottles, or resistance bands.

  1. Begin by sitting up straight in a sturdy, armless chair with your feet flat on the floor about shoulder-width apart.
  2. Hold a light dumbbell (or can or water bottle) or the end of a resistance band at your shoulders. Your elbows should be bent and your palms facing outward.
  3. Press your arms straight up, extending your elbows.
  4. Slowly lower your hands back to the starting position.
  5. Repeat this movement ten to twelve times to complete your first set.
  6. Complete two to three sets.

Tummy Twists

Developing a strong core can help you improve balance and coordination, as well as make everyday tasks less taxing. The tummy twist is designed to gently work your core muscles. You’ll need a ball and a sturdy chair for this exercise.

  1. Begin by sitting up straight on a sturdy, armless chair with your feet flat on the floor.
  2. Hold the ball close to your body using both hands with your elbows bent.
  3. Slowly rotate your torso to the left as far as you can, keeping the rest of your body stationary.
  4. Rotate slowly back to the middle.
  5. Rotate to the right.
  6. Do two twists on each side to complete one set.
  7. Complete eight sets.

Elbow Curls

This exercise will help strengthen and stretch the muscles in your chest, neck, and shoulders. Regularly performing this exercise can help alleviate tightness and stiffness in these areas, as well as make reaching easier.

  1. Sit at the front of a sturdy, armless chair with your feet flat on the floor and your back straight.
  2. Bend your elbows, raising both arms up so that your knuckles touch your temples, palms facing forward.
  3. Keeping your hands in place, slowly bring your elbows together in front of you.
  4. Bring your elbows back to the starting position.
  5. Repeat this movement at a moderate pace twenty to thirty times.

While getting enough exercise can be a challenge, especially as we age, it’s important to remember that even gentle exercise like the chair exercises covered here can make a big difference. Healthy movement in just about any form is a great way to age gracefully, continue to live an independent lifestyle, and enjoy better quality of life.

At MediQuest Staffing, we understand how important it is for you to remain independent as long as possible. That’s why we offer a variety of care options from post outpatient services to customized support to help with the activities of daily living, all in the comfort of your own home. To find out more, get in touch with us today!