Chair Exercises for the Elderly

Updated May 10, 2017

Chair exercises are an ideal physical activity for older people or those with limited mobility. The exercises facilitate movement at an appropriate level to increase fitness without adding the unnecessary risk that can arise during higher intensity, higher impact activity. Chair exercises focus on functional fitness and improve participants' ability to perform the standard activities of daily living.


Chair exercises are used to strengthen muscles and can also provide cardiovascular benefit. Overhead reaches, arm raises, pass-the-ball, elbow-to-knee and arm circles work the upper body and core. Leg extensions, leg raises and calf raises work the lower body. Elevating the arms overhead and alternating sitting and standing can raise the heart rate for a more aerobic workout. The chair can also be utilised for balance if participants hold it while performing standing side leg lifts and standing on one leg with the eyes closed. Stretches for the arms and legs are incorporated into exercises to increase flexibility.


As we age, we lose lean muscle mass unless we perform physical activity to help maintain it. By our mid-50s the rate of loss increases to about 1 per cent per year. Chair exercises provide the opportunity for older adults to stay active and combat this loss. The low-impact movements are easy on the joints, and seated positions provide a safe environment for a population who often struggles with balance and may be at risk for fracture from falling. When activities such as pass-the-ball are included in the routine, chair exercises promote a sense of community and a support system for those wanting to improve their fitness.


Chair exercises are most often done in a group setting with a qualified instructor. The classes require a chair for each participant and sometimes elastic exercise bands and a ball. Music can help motivate participants as they exercise and should be upbeat but not fast paced. A session of exercises should include a 5-minute warm-up of an easy activity such as marching while seated in the chair. The cool-down should be extended to about 10 to 15 minutes to prevent pooling of blood in the extremities. Each participant moves at his own pace; there is no organised moving to the beat of music. The exercises are easy to follow and offer variations for those not as advanced or with injury. For example, while the class does full circles with the arms in the air a person with limited mobility in his shoulders would do small circles with his arms in front of him.


Chair exercises can seem easy to someone who is used to more advanced exercise, perhaps a younger or extremely fit person. However, these exercises can be taxing for older adults who have not remained physically active or those who have limited mobility. The instructor should watch participants for signs of exhaustion, including heavy breathing or excessive reddening of the face. Begin these exercises doing sessions of only a few minutes at a time, and incorporate rest breaks throughout the session.

Expert Insight

The benefits of increased flexibility and lean body mass, cardiovascular fitness, reduction in falls and improved cognitive function can all be gained through this type of activity. These benefits are especially ideal for older populations. However, these exercises are also appropriate for other groups, including morbidly obese individuals who have difficulty with mobility and cannot participate in more advanced activities. Most of the exercises can also be adapted for individuals who are wheelchair-bound but still maintain full use of their upper bodies.

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About the Author

Lori Rice is a freelance health and travel writer. As an avid traveler and former expat, she enjoys sharing her experiences and tips with other enthusiastic explorers. Rice received a master's degree in nutritional sciences and a bachelor’s degree in nutrition, fitness and health.