Fun Exercises For The Elderly

My Dad is a real champ when it comes to knowing exercises for the elderly. Some of them he devised himself and has been doing for years. Others are movements I taught him and we do together. Both of us are a bit home bound right now – he is elderly, and I'm a full-time caregiver. So it's not easy for me to get out on a regular basis for classes.

This has led me to put together an overall routine of exercises that are used, actually, by both me and Dad to do at home, drawing on resources and ideas from many areas – including a few from yoga. For many people and caregivers, exercises can also be great outdoor elderly activities.

Dad's Exercises

I have to admit Dad is somewhat of an unusual guy for his age -- even at 96, completely ambulatory, needing neither a cane nor walker. But he has both and may use them if he is going somewhere unfamiliar. He has made a point of exercising all of his limbs and joints over the decades to keep himself that way. He also has zero arthritis or pain anywhere.

What he did was really easy -- (aside from golfing 18 holes several times a week until he was 93, then lost too much sight to keep it up). So he's been exercising his whole life. But it's never too late to start. At least some of the exercises for the elderly that he does can be used by almost anyone. "The secret," he says, "is to just move something, somewhere, every day." Even if you're in bed.

Dad's particular daily routine involves: rotating or moving all of his joints and limbs; walking paces around the house or outdoors; pulling exercise bungee cords tied to the sides of his chair for his arms; lifting 5 pound weights from his chair (as he is doing in the photo to the right); going up and down the stairs (with me) twice daily; gentle knee bends; various leg stretches; simple chair yoga movements with me.

Up until he was about 94 he used to also lay down on the floor and do all kinds of floor exercises. Then just got up off the floor like it was no big deal. When he moved back here a couple years ago and I first saw him do this, I was floored! I have a hard time getting up off the floor myself, and I'm decades younger. (Floor routines are not a standard part of exercises for the elderly).

I know that is atypical. But there are lots of ability levels for the elderly, and we discuss here a lot of simple exercises for the elderly that can be done by just about anyone. They should be easy and fun, (although I am aware that some exercises people do when undergoing certain types of physical therapy are not exactly fun!).

The usual -- There are loads of options to choose from, including the obvious walking, jogging, mowing the lawn, gardening, golf, swimming, bicycling, doing stairs, house work, and dancing. So we do not cover those in detail here. But take a look at the other exercises for the elderly below; some may give you new ideas.

Some Easy Exercises For The Elderly

If you need a few ideas to jump-start your exercise routine, or if you are helping others, these are some of our favorites. If you are not used to exercising, start out with 5 or 6 times per exercise, then increase to 10, and so on. You'll find many can be done sitting down or even laying down.

  • Deep breathing – It is good to first start exercises for the elderly by sitting quietly and closing your eyes. Take a deep, slow breath through your nose, hold for about 4 seconds, then exhale slowly through your mouth. Repeat at least 4 times. This will clear your head and get oxygen flowing through your system.
  • Walking in the air - An idea from our visiting nurse: While sitting, stretch your legs out in front of you so they are in the air. If you cannot hold them up, then stretch them out so they are on the floor or a foot stool. Then “walk” so that you flex your feet heel to toe, heel to toe, from foot to foot – as if walking in the air. This gets the circulation in your legs going and, she said, can help prevent blood clots in the legs. Great to do while working, watching TV, or reading.
  • Peddling in the air - This is related to the above. Put your legs out in front of you (like Dad on the right) and raise them slightly off the floor. You can grip onto the sides of the chair if needed. Use a peddling motion as if on a bike. Gradually you'll be able to keep your legs in the air longer and longer. Great for circulation and muscle strength.
  • Stand up and lift yourself up on your toes, then put your heels and feet back flat on the floor. You can use a wall for balance as needed. Do this at least six times.
  • While sitting, rotate your ankles in circles first in one direction, then the other. Exercises for the elderly that rotate the joints will keep them limber and helps ease any already existing joint pain.
  • Toe scrunches – One of my dad’s favorites. Simply scrunch the toes in and out to keep them strong and flexible. Good for balance too.
  • Hand scrunches – Make a fist and then spread the fingers out wide, then back to fist mode, then spread them out again, several times.
  • Wrist rotations – Rotate the hands in circles in the air first one way, and then in the other direction. Then do the same with just rotating the thumbs.
  • Shoulder rotations – Make circles with your shoulders by pushing them up, forward, down, and back. You can do them together or one at a time. Then change directions.
  • Neck rotations – Sit with your body straight forward, then draw circles in the air with your neck and head, either full circles or halves, whichever works better for you. You can also just turn your neck and head from side to side. With any neck exercises for the elderly, you should start out very gently if you are not used to them.
  • Arm and shoulder lifts – With elbows straight out at chest level, fold your hands together in front of your chest as if in prayer, with fingers pointing straight up. Then move the entire arm, hands and elbows straight up and down, so your pointed fingers move from chest level up to mouth level, and then back down to chest level. Repeat several times.
  • Swimming in the air – Either stand or sit on the edge of your chair and make arm motions in the air as if you are swimming, as Dad is demonstrating to the right. Of course real swimming is about the best overall exercises for the elderly, or at least one of them.
  • Reach for the stars – While either sitting or standing, look up and stretch one arm and hand up high above your head as if reaching for the stars with it. Your body will slightly tilt, and you will slightly lift up on the opposite foot as well. Then stretch with the other hand and side, feeling the stretch also in your waist and hips as you do it. Do this back and forth stretching up, alternating hands, several times.
  • Backside Bicycling – You can do this one in bed or while laying on the floor (I like to do it while watching TV). Raise your legs straight up into the air above you. Slide your hands under your lower back or under your thighs for support. You can also put them under your neck or head. Whatever makes you comfortable. Then just simply move your legs in the air as if bicycling. Really good for leg circulation and muscle tone.
  • Portable bicycle – I purchased one of those small, portable bicycle exercising gadgets that you use sitting in your chair. It's a great little machine for a couple different exercises for the elderly. You can put it either on the floor for your legs, or use it on your lap and pedal with your arms. I use it for both arms and legs all the time, especially when on the phone or watching TV.
  • Stair stepping – You will need to be able to step up and down on one stair for this. Ideally, hold onto a wall or banister on each side for better balance. You will always be facing the front for this stepping routine. With the left foot leading, just step forward up the step, and then bring the other foot up. Then step back down the step. Repeat leading with the left foot several times. Then switch to the right foot and do it again. Increase the amount of stepping you do, as you get used to this.
  • Strength training – See this web page by the CDC for easy exercises for the elderly and for seniors that includes specific ideas about strength training. It includes a questionnaire to help you determine your current level of fitness. This will need to be carefully modified for many people.
  • See our page on Tai Chi For Seniors (Pronounced Tie-chee). This ancient Chinese mind-body exercise helps with breathing, muscle strength, and flexibility, and is recommended by the Mayo Clinic -- they're great exercises for the elderly. Consider taking a class in tai chi, or buying an instructional DVD. Many senior centers and community centers offer classes at low cost. It’s perfect to do either alone or with a group, and at just about any age. Because tai chi involves very specific movements, it is best learned from an instructor.
  • Spring Forest Qigong – (Pronounced chee-gong). Qigong is also an ancient Chinese practice and has some similarities to tai chi. It is very healing as well, working with the qi (pronounced chee) or energy flow, throughout your body and nervous system. Spring Forest Qigong is a very specific (and easy) type of qigong. I personally practice this specific method and can say that it has improved my allergies, asthma, chronic fatigue, sleeplessness, restless legs, plus immediately alleviates any feelings of on-coming depression. It is meant to be easy and you can do it even just 10 to 20 minutes per day. There are teachers all over the world for this, or you can go to Spring Forest Qigong. I can personally recommend that these are excellent movements for the elderly, and you only need to learn the basic level to achieve just about any result.
  • Dad and I both do yoga for seniors – You can read about it by linking to our page. Yoga is an ancient form of exercise excellent for balance, strength, flexibility. Now it is very main stream and easy to find classes for it. Again, it's best to have an instructor and we explain just why. Another plus – some yoga can be done in a chair as well, so they're perfect exercises for the elderly. Learn more about it.
As usual, before you start any type of exercise program, be sure you check it out with your doctor, especially if you are currently under medical care and/or are dealing with health issues. But generally speaking, some kind of exercise is usually included in a good elderly health care plan. It's just a matter of choosing what exercises for the elderly are right for you or those you care for. We hope these ideas can help start or enhance your exercise plan.

Be sure to also read:

Elderly Health Care Issues and Solutions -- A discussion of the major health care matters that elderly face, and also solutions. A need for exercise and fitness is key in assisting with seniors with these issues.
Falls in Elderly - The Game Changer -- A primary cause for accident and injury of seniors over age 65 is from falls. There are specific reasons for falls, which we discuss. Plus what you can do to help prevent them (and exercise is just one of them).
Elderly Nutrition -- Elderly nutrition can almost become a crisis for many, especially when lonely and isolated - which can even happen when surrounded by others in a facility. Along with fitness, good nutrition is paramount to good elderly health care. And we discuss some easy ways to ensure good nutrition.

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