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5 Best Chair Exercises for Seniors

A senior man does a seated chair stretch.

Getting a workout in doesn’t have to mean a trip to the gym. Chair exercises for seniors can be done right in your own home, all at once or throughout the day.

The best chair exercises for seniors help to improve strength, balance, and flexibility while also sneaking in a cardio workout. They’re safe, free, and remarkably effective. 

But don’t take our word for it. A 2021 meta-analysis of over 1,000 people ranging in age from 55 to 88 years old, found that “balance, gait speed, grip strength, and several other physical measurements,” were all improved by chair exercises. 

The real take-home from the study? “Every minute counts.” It’s easy, as we get older, to fall into an all-or-nothing mentality: If you can’t run two miles on the treadmill or lift 50 pounds, why bother? 

The truth is that chair exercises for seniors can help you maintain and build strength, which is critical in preventing falls, staying independent, and feeling good. The following five chair exercises for seniors are a great way to get started — and all you need to begin is a sturdy and firm chair, either with or without arms. As always, consult with your physician before beginning any new exercise program. 

Warming up Before Chair Exercises for Seniors

Working cold muscles is never a good idea. This gentle warm-up takes just a few minutes and will get you ready to go.

  1. 1. While sitting in your chair, roll your wrists five times in one direction and then repeat in the opposite direction.
  2. 2. Roll shoulders five times in one direction and then repeat in the opposite direction.
  3. 3. Lift one arm straight up overhead and return before switching sides; repeat four more times on each side. 
  4. 4. With feet flat on the floor, lift both heels off the ground while keeping toes on the floor. Lower heels and repeat the sequence for 30 seconds.
  5. 5. Put both hands on the back of your head, interlacing your fingers if you like and extending your elbows straight out. Hold for about 30 seconds, breathing deeply. 

Now for the 5 Best Senior Chair Exercises

1. Lean Backs

1. Your core muscles support you in everything you do. Keep them strong with this simple yet effective move. Start with one set of 10 reps.

  1. 2. Sit on the edge of the chair with your feet flat on the floor and hip-width apart.
  2. 3. Cross your arms over your chest with your hands on your shoulders.
  3. 4. Engage your core and slowly lean your upper body toward the back of the chair while keeping your spine straight.
  4. Once your back touches the chair, slowly return to the starting position to complete your first rep.

Extra challenge: While in the position of leaning all the way back, lift your feet off the floor for a second before returning to an upright seated position. 

2. Marching

This exercise hits the trifecta by increasing strength, getting your heart pumping, and even boosting flexibility in the hips and thighs. Start with one set of 10 reps and work your way up to three sets over time.

  1. 1.  Sit back in your chair, keeping your back straight and feet hip-width apart.
  2. 2. Engage your core by squeezing your abdominal muscles.
  3. 3. Lift your right knee as high as you can while keeping the same bend in your knee.
  4. 4. Slowly lower your right foot to the floor, keeping your abs engaged.
  5. 5. Repeat with your left leg to complete the first rep.

Extra challenge: Wear a pair of ankle weights like these to make the exercise harder. You can also gently press down on your thigh with your same-side hand to increase resistance.

3. Heel Taps

This exercise works the core and leg muscles while increasing the range of motion and flexibility in the hips. Start with one set of 10 reps and increase to two or three sets.

  1. 1. Sit on the edge of the chair with feet flat on the floor.
  2. 2. Hold the sides of the seat and engage your core muscles.
  3. 3. Lift your right foot so that it hovers just above the floor and extend your leg diagonally to the right at about a 45-degree angle.
  4. 4. Tap your right heel on the floor once and return to your starting position.
  5. 5. Repeat on the left side to complete your first rep.

Extra challenge: Raise your arms straight above your head as you tap your heel and return to your side as you bring your foot back in. 

4. Stand Ups

This exercise works the quadriceps, hamstrings, calf muscles, glutes and core. It also improves balance. The goal is to complete 20 of these. If that’s too much all at once, complete four sets of five throughout the day. 

  1. 1. Sit on the edge of your chair with your hands either on armrests or the front edge of the seat for support.
  2. 2. Using your hands to assist you, stand straight up. 
  3. 3. Return to a seated position to complete your first rep.

Extra challenge: Stand up without using your hands to assist you. 

5. Side Body Stretch

Stretching is more than just good for the body, it also boosts serotonin levels. End your workout with this relaxing stretch, making sure to take it slow and breathe deeply to get the most out of the exercise. Do only one set of four to six reps. 

  1. 1. Sit all the way back in the chair, keeping your spine straight.
  2. 2. Keep your feet flat on the floor and about hip-width apart.
  3. 3. Hold the sides of the seat for support.
  4. 4. Raise your right arm above your head and lean gently to the left as you reach your arm over your head in the direction you are leaning.
  5. 5. Lean just until your right hip begins to lift off the chair. Your right heel can also lift slightly.
  6. 6. Hold the stretch for five to 10 seconds as you breathe deeply.
  7. 7. Repeat by leaning to the left to complete your first rep.

Extra challenge: Place your forearm on your thigh in the direction you are leaning to deepen the stretch. 

Cooling Down After Chair Exercises for Seniors

The cool-down is the best part of any workout. Enjoy long, deep breaths as you wind down. 

  1. 1. Roll shoulders five times in each direction. 
  2. 2. Cross your left ankle over your right knee (or position lower on your leg if necessary) and gently lean forward to stretch your hips. Hold the stretch for 10 seconds before repeating on the other side.
  3. 3. Sweep your arms out to the sides and then overhead while breathing in and lower your arms back down to your sides while exhaling, repeating three times.

Staying Fit at Stonebridge of Montgomery

Stonebridge at Montgomery is an active Life Plan Community located in Skillman, New Jersey. Through our award-winning LivWell program, we embrace the seven dimensions of wellness, including physical, intellectual, emotional, social, environmental, spiritual, and vocational needs. Practically speaking, that looks like one-on-one training sessions in our state-of-the-art fitness center, afternoons spent in our art studio, faith discussion groups, book clubs, cornhole tournaments, happy hour with friends, and outings to the many amenities offered at nearby Princeton University. See it all in action for yourself by scheduling a visit

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