Fun Exercises For The Elderly
Dad's a real champ when it comes to knowing exercises for the
elderly. Some of them he devised himself and did for years.
Others are movements I taught him to do together. When home-bound (including as a caregiver), it can be difficult to get out to classes and groups.
This led me to put together an overall routine of exercises for both me and Dad to do at home. For
many people and caregivers, exercises can also be great
outdoor elderly activities.
Dad's Exercises for the Elderly
I have to admit Dad's somewhat of an unusual guy for his age --
even at 96, completely ambulatory, needing neither a cane nor walker.
He made a point of exercising all of his limbs and joints over the
decades to keep himself that way, with arthritis or pain
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 said, "is to just move something, somewhere, every day." Even if you're in bed.
Dad's particular daily routine: 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
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.
More 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. 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
- 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. Heel-toes can also be done in a chair.
- 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 one the best
overall exercises for the elderly.
- 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, couch, or while laying on
the floor if possible. (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. Or put them under your neck or
head. Whatever is comfortable. Then just simply move your legs in
the air as if bicycling. Really good for leg circulation and muscle
- 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. Hold onto a wall or banister on each side for
better balance. 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
- Strength training – Don't know where to start? See this web page and PDF booklet by the CDC for easy exercises
for the elderly and seniors about strength training. Great for chronic symptoms, as with diabetes, arthritis, heart disease, back pain, obesity, and more! Lots of excellent pointers.
- See our page on
Tai Chi For Seniors - This ancient Chinese mind-body exercise helps
with breathing, muscle strength, and flexibility, and is recommended by
the Mayo Clinic - wonderful 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. Perfect either alone or with a group. Because tai
chi involves very specific movements, it is best learned from an
- 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 mainstream and easy to find classes for it. We use a DVD called "Easy Yoga For Arthritis," by Peggy Cappy. And just do the movements we like.
- 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.
- I do exercises with a 55+ group and several of them are elderly. We use really fun DVDs by Jodi Stolove from her "Chair Dancing" series. She also has Chair Yoga. Very easy strength training and aerobices, sitting or standing (I like to stand).
As usual, before you start any type of exercise program, you may need to
check with your doctor. But generally, some kind of exercise is usually included in a good
It's just a matter of choosing what exercises for the
elderly are right for you or those you care for. The more we exercise, the stronger we become, and who knows what's next... like Dad (below) water skiing at 83!
Be sure to also read:
Elderly Health Care Issues and Solutions
-- Major health care matters that elderly face, and also solutions. A need for exercise and fitness is key.
Falls in Elderly - The Game Changer
-- A main cause for accidents and injuries over age 65 is
from falls. There are specific reasons for falls, plus what you can do
to help prevent it.
-- 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. Some easy ways to ensure good
to Exercise For Seniors