Exercises for Seniors: The Complete Guide


Exercise is vital for people of all ages for maintaining health, preventing injuries, and lowering risks of heart diseases. Having exercise routines readily available will help give you a jump start towards better health. We’ve gathered 29 different exercises designed to be safe and challenging for seniors and the elderly. These are separated into six different categories for easier navigation. You can begin with stretches in the first section and move onto balance exercises before switching to more advanced exercises. While all exercises are geared for seniors, many can be modified with weights, repetitions, or duration to suit your needs. Check out the different categories of exercises for seniors we have below, get active, and reap the health benefits!

Table of Contents:

  1. Stretching Exercises
  2. Balance Exercises
  3. Chair Exercises
  4. Core Exercises
  5. Cardio and Low-Impact Exercises
  6. Strength Exercises

I. Stretching Exercise for Seniors

Upper-Back-&-Chest-Stretch Upper Back Stretch
  1. Begin seated with relaxed shoulders.
  2. Extend arms forward at shoulder height and grab one hand with the other and push outwards while pulling your back and shoulders forward.
  3. Hold for 10 seconds and release.
Chest Stretch
  1. Begin seated with relaxed shoulders.
  2. Pull extended arms back while grabbing one hand, keeping both hands down near the buttocks.
  3. Pull your shoulders back and hold for 10 seconds and release.
Seat-and-Reach-&-Neck-&-Inner-Thigh-Stretch Sit and Reach Stretch
  1. Sit at the edge of a chair and extend your legs forward with your knees slightly bent.
  2. Keep your heels on the floor and toes pointed toward the ceiling.
  3. Extend both arms in front and reach to touch your toes, while slowly bending at the waist without bouncing.
  4. Hold for 10 seconds then return to resting position.
Neck Stretch
  1. Begin seated and slowly tilt your head to your right shoulder.
  2. Hold this position and extend your left arm to the side and downward at waist level.
  3. Release, then repeat on the left side. Repeat twice on each side.
Inner Thigh Stretch
  1. Begin standing with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart and toes pointing slightly outward.
  2. Slowly lean to your left side by bending your left knee while keeping your right leg straight.
  3. Keep your left knee from passing your toes.
  4. Hold for 10 seconds then return to resting position and repeat on the right.
Shoulder-Circles-&-Hand-Stretches Shoulder Circles
  1. Begin seated and place fingertips on your shoulders.
  2. Circle your shoulders 15 times forwards, then 15 times backwards.
Hand Stretches
  1. Begin seated with hands reached out in front of you, palms facing down.
  2. Open both hands to spread your fingers apart, then close your hands. Repeat 10 times.

II. Balance Exercises for Seniors

Flamingo-&-Single-Limb-&-Toe Flamingo Stand
  1. Stand with feet together and arm relaxed at sides. Hold onto a chair for support if needed.
  2. Bend one knee to lift the foot slightly off the ground and balance with your other leg.
  3. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat with other leg.
Single Limb Stance With Arm
  1. Stand with feet together and arm relaxed at sides. Hold onto a chair for support if needed.
  2. Raise your left arm overhead and raise your left leg forward and off the floor.
  3. Hold for 10 seconds then repeat on other side.
Toe the line
  1. Stand with arms relaxed at sides.
  2. Move one foot forward, placing the heel of one foot touching or as close as possible to the toes of your other foot. Repeat for 15-20 steps.
Clock-&-Side-Leg Side Leg Raises
  1. Stand behind a chair or counter with one or both hands using resting on it for support.
  2. Lift your right leg out to the side and repeat 10 times for each leg.
Clock Reach
  1. Begin standing, holding a chair with your left hand. Imagine a clock with 12 o’clock in front of you and 6 behind.
  2. Stand on your left leg, bring your right arm to 12 o’clock and reach to 3 o’clock to your side, and 6 o’clock towards the back. Repeat with other side.

III. Chair Exercises for Seniors

Front-Arm-&-Seated-Shin-&-Plies Front Arm Raises
  1. Begin seated, holding a ball in both hands with your palms facing each other.
  2. Extend your arms forward so the ball rests on your legs, with your elbows slightly bent.
  3. Slowly raise your arms to lift the ball to shoulder level, then lower back down, taking about 3 seconds to raise and lower. Repeat 10-15 times.
Seated Shin Strengthener
  1. Begin seated on the edge of a chair with legs extended, heels on the floor and knees slightly bent.
  2. Point your toes downward, then flex upward.
  3. Do 15 repetitions, relax, then do 15 more repetitions.
  1. Hold the back of a chair. Stand with legs slightly wider than shoulder-width, while pointing toes outward slightly.
  2. Bend your knees slowly, using 2 full seconds to lower yourself. Adjust leg position if needed to keep legs far enough apart so the knees don’t pass your toes as you bend.
  3. Perform 8 times, then rest. Perform another set, doing as many as you can do in good form.
Tummy-Twists Tummy Twists
  1. Begin seated, holding a ball with hands close to your stomach and elbows slightly bent.
  2. Slowly rotate your torso to the right as much as you comfortably can, while keeping the rest of your body stable.
  3. Return to the center and repeat on the left. Repeat until you complete 8 twists per side.

IV. Core Exercises for Seniors

Leg-Lifts-&-Bicycle Leg Lifts
  1. Lie on your back with legs flat against the ground and feet relaxed.
  2. Contract your abdominal muscles while raising one leg 5 inches off the floor and hold for 3 seconds.
  3. Lower and repeat on your other leg. Repeat 5 times each side.
  1. Lie on your back with your hands behind your head.
  2. Bend your knees and lift your feet so your calves are parallel to the floor.
  3. While drawing in your belly button and exhaling, bring one knee to your chest while reaching for it with your elbow on the opposite side. It should look almost as if you were pedaling a bicycle.
  4. Repeat on the side, and continue with repetitions for 30 seconds.
  5. Rest for one minute, and repeat with another 30-second set.
Seated-Twists-&-Side-Bends-&-Knee-Lifts Seated Twists
  1. Sit on an exercise ball, a bosu ball or a roman chair.
  2. If using a ball, begin by placing your feet flat on the ground. If using a roman chair, begin by tucking your legs under the leg support.
  3. Bend your torso to a 45-degree angle from the floor. Place your arms across your chest and lean back as far as you can.
  4. Then move forward and slowly twist to the left then lean back again slowly to the start position. Repeat on the right side. Do three sets of 15 reps each.
Side Bends
  1. Sit on a chair with your feet flat on the floor.
  2. Place one hand behind your head and the other arm stretched out to one side.
  3. Lean over to the side as if reaching toward the floor.
  4. Contract your obliques and return to the starting position, while keeping your chest from falling forward and keeping your feet flat on the floor. Repeat five times on each side.
Seated Knee Lifts
  1. Begin seated on a floor mat or a bench.
  2. Slowly draw both of your knees towards your chest they touch your chest or until your legs touch your abs.
  3. Perform 15 to 20 repetitions for one set, and complete three sets total.

V. Cardio and Low-Impact Exercises for Seniors

Speed-&-Step-ups-&-Water Speed Drill
  1. Draw a ladder design on the floor with chalk or tape.
  2. Walk through the steps of the ladder by putting one foot in a square, then bringing the other foot into the same square.
  3. Move to the next square and continue until you reach the end of the ladder. Turn around and repeat.
  1. Begin at the bottom of a set of stairs. Step on the first stair with your left foot.
  2. Then, lift your right foot off the floor and hold it in the air for one second.
  3. Step down with your right leg, then the left.
  4. Repeat on the opposite side and repeat 10 times per side.
Water Aerobics Keeping impact low on the body during exercise may be required by some for many reasons including arthritis and joint pain. For this reason, water aerobics has become a popular choice form of exercise for seniors. It’s a safe and effective way to get a workout for the entire body without traditional weights. Water aerobics helps build strength and endurance and since most classes are taken in shallow water, even seniors who don’t know how to swim can participate. Gyms and community pools usually provide these classes. Some popular water aerobic exercises include aqua jogging, leg lifts, including various balance and strength builders. Biking-&-Tai-Chi Biking & Elliptical For a low-impact workout, consider bicycling and the elliptical machine. These may not be the first exercises to come to mind for low-impact exercises, but they are effective options since they transfer minimal shock to your joints and your body. Both exercises are easy on your joints and body in terms of impact. Cycling on the road and on a stationary bike are both viable options for a low-impact workout. If cycling on the road, you can use an electric bicycle for exercise and also as an effective form of commute. The assistance from the motor helps through tough terrain and makes hills easier, allowing To make it even easier on your back and neck, a recumbent bicycle is a good alternative as well. While it might not seem like a low-impact exercise, cycling is actually very easy on the joints since your body absorbs minimal shock from pedaling. You can ride a stationary bike at the gym or invest in a road bike to pedal around your neighborhood. If an upright bicycle is too hard on your back, neck and shoulders, try a recumbent bike instead. Unlike an upright bike, where you're bent over the handlebars, a recumbent bike allows you to sit back with the pedals and handlebars right in front of you. Tai Chi The fact that most tai chi practitioners begin after the age of 50 is a clear sign that it’s a good form of exercise for seniors. Tai chi is type of meditative exercise that focuses on slow, low-impact movements, and breathing technique. Tai chi has been shown to improve balance, strength, and flexibility while remaining gentle on the joints. Its routines are adaptable to your skill level and you don’t need any kind of equipment to start practicing, so it’s easy for anyone to get started. As you advance, tai chi routines and forms can get advanced, keeping you challenged, and working out your cardiovascular system at the same time.

VI. Strength Exercises for Seniors

Squats-&-Wrist-&-Bicep-Curls Partial Squat & Half-Squat Against a Wall
  1. Begin standing up, using a chair for support.
  2. Bend your knees as far as you comfortably can without having your knees pass your toes, then return to the starting position.
  3. Repeat 10 times.
  4. For a more advanced version try the half-squat against the wall: perform this against the wall and bend your knees to almost 90 degrees as if you were sitting on an invisible chair.
Wrist Curls
  1. Place your forearm on a chair’s armrest with your hand hanging over the edge.
  2. Hold a weight with your palm facing upward.
  3. Slowly bend your wrist up and down, then repeat 10 times.
  4. Switch sides, and perform 10 reps with your other hand. Repeat one more set of 10 on each side.
Bicep Curls
  1. Choose a dumbbell heavy enough that you can only complete 10-12 reps.
  2. Begin sitting in a chair with one dumbbell in each hand, with your palms facing forward, keeping your elbows close to your sides.
  3. Bend your arm at the elbows to lift the dumbbell ¾ of the way to your shoulders, without moving your elbows away from your side.
  4. Do 10 to 12 repetitions per arm.
Upright-Front-Row-&-Knee-Extentsions Upright Front Row
  1. Begin standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, and partially leaning forward.
  2. Hold one dumbbell in each hand in front of you, with palms facing toward your body.
  3. Lift both dumbbells toward your chin while keeping your back straight and shoulders stationary.
  4. Return to starting position and repeat 10 times.
Knee Extensions
  1. Begin seated in a chair with your back straight and knees bent.
  2. Slowly extend your right leg forward and hold for a few seconds before lowering back to starting position.
  3. Repeat with your left leg.
  4. Do 10 reps per leg.