Exercises for Older Adults

Staying fit and healthy is essential at any age. But as we get older, it’s especially important to continue exercising. Not only does regular exercise improve flexibility and lower your risk of certain diseases and injury, exercise has been shown to help improve cognitive function and memory. 

But what are the best exercises for seniors? At Acts, we have fitness trainers at every one of our retirement communities throughout the Eastern United States who help residents stay fit. We spoke with them regarding the most beneficial exercises for older adults:

Best Exercises for Seniors by Type

 Stretching Exercises | Seated Exercises | Balance Exercises

While there are many different types of exercises for seniors, this guide focuses on three specific types: stretching, chair, and balance exercises. It ends with an extensive list of additional resources.

Read on to learn how to perform these various senior exercises, as well as their benefits.

Stretching Exercises for Seniors

Tricep Stretch | Upper Back Stretch | Chest Stretch | Side-to-Side Stretch | Standing Quadriceps Stretch | Torso Rotation | Standing Calf Stretch | Sitting Quadriceps Stretch | Sitting Hamstring and Lower Back Stretch | Hip Rotator Stretch | Sitting Knee to Chest Stretch

Stretching exercises can help improve flexibility and potentially lower your risk of injury. They can be performed while standing or in a chair, as outlined below.

Hold each stretch for 30 seconds:

Tricep Stretch

  • Lift one arm over head.
  • Bend your elbow and bring fingers toward the back of your shoulder.
  • Use your opposite hand to gently push your elbow backward.
  • Repeat with opposite arm.

Benefit: Improves upper body mobility for reaching overhead, improves posture and allows for efficient breathing.

Upper Back Stretch

  • Bring both arms forward, hands together.
  • Reach forward, round the upper back.
  • Tuck the chin.

upper back stretch senior exercise

Benefit: Improves upper body mobility for reaching forward, decreases muscular tension in the neck and shoulders associated with stress.

Chest Stretch

  • Put arms out to sides.
  • Bend elbows.
  • Point fingers up (arms will resemble a goal post).
  • Squeeze shoulder blades together.

chest stretch senior exercise

Benefit: Improves upper body mobility for reaching to the sides, improves rounded shoulder posture often attributed to using computers, tablets or texting. Also allows for efficient breathing and circulation.

Side-to-Side Stretch

  • Raise one arm above your head.
  • Gently lean to the opposite side to increase the stretch.
  • Repeat with the opposite arm.

side to side stretch senior exercise

Benefit: Improves upper body and torso mobility for reaching, bending and twisting. Improves posture, allows for more efficient breathing and circulation.

Standing Quadriceps Stretch

  • Hold on to a chair, wall or table for support.
  • Bend your knee, lifting your heel toward your buttocks.
  • Hold your heel in your hand to increase the stretch in the front of your thigh.
  • Repeat with the opposite leg.

standing quadriceps stetch senior exercise

Benefit: Improves lower body mobility for walking, climbing stairs, getting out of chair. Improves ability to recover from loss of balance and possibly reduces low back pain.

Torso Rotation

  • Sit or stand with arms across chest.
  • Rotate to the right as if looking over your right shoulder.
  • Repeat to the left.

torso rotation senior exercise

Benefit: Improves torso mobility for reaching, twisting, looking over your shoulder. May also improve posture and reduce low back pain.

Standing Calf Stretch

  • Hold onto a chair, wall or table.
  • Stand in a lunge position.
  • Bend your front leg.
  • Shift your weight forward onto the front leg.
  • Press your back heel into the floor.
  • Repeat with the opposite leg in front.

standing calf stretch senior exercise

Benefit: Improves ankle mobility necessary for walking, climbing stairs, walking on different surfaces (grass, gravel, carpet etc.). Improves ability to recover from loss of balance.

Sitting Quadriceps Stretch

  • Turn sideways in a chair.
  • Hold onto the back of the chair.
  • Drop the knee of the leg toward the front of the chair, down toward the floor.
  • Slide the leg backward to increase the stretch in the front of the thigh.
  • Turn to the other side and repeat with the opposite leg.

sitting quardriceps stretch

Benefit: Improves lower body mobility for walking, climbing stairs, getting out of a chair, improves ability to recover from loss of balance and possibly reduces low back pain. 

Sitting Hamstring and Lower Back Stretch (Sit and Reach)

  • Sit toward the front edge of a chair.
  • Keep one knee bent with foot flat on floor, straighten the other leg.
  • Flex the foot so toes are pointing up.
  • Put one hand on top of the other hand.
  • Reach down toward the toes.

sitting hamstring and lower back stretch senior exercise

Benefit: Improves lower body mobility for walking, climbing stairs, getting out of a chair. Improves ability to recover from loss of balance and possibly reduces low back pain. 

Hip Rotator Stretch

  • Sit toward the front edge of a chair.
  • Cross the right foot over the left knee.
  • Put both hands on the right thigh (above the knee).
  • Gently push down toward the floor.
  • Repeat with opposite leg.

hip rotator stretch senior exercise

Benefit: Improves lower body mobility for stepping to the side, avoiding obstacles, getting out of the car. Improves ability to recover from loss of balance.

Sitting Knee to Chest Stretch

  • Sit at the front edge of a chair.
  • Put your hands behind one knee and gently pull your knee toward your chest.
  • Repeat with the opposite leg.

sitting knee to chest stretch senior exercise

Benefit: Improves hip mobility for balance, walking, avoiding obstacles and possibly reduces low back pain.

Knee to Chest Stretch

  • Lie on the floor with one leg straight.
  • Bend the other leg.
  • Put your hands behind the knee of the bent leg.
  • Gently pull your knee toward your chest.
  • Repeat with the opposite leg.

knee to chest stretch senior exercise

Benefit: improves hip mobility for balance, walking, avoiding obstacles and possibly reduces low back pain.

Seated Exercises for Seniors

Knee Lifts or Marching | Seated Jumping Jacks | Shoulder Rolls | Seated Row | Trunk Rotation | Knee Extension | Toe Taps | Ankle Circles

Seated exercises are perfect for seniors with limited mobility or difficulties with balance.

Knee Lifts or Marching

  • Sit up straight toward the front edge of a chair.
  • Alternate lifting knees as if marching in place.
  • Try to march for at least 20 seconds.
  • Increase the time as you are able.

knee lifts/marching senior exercise

Benefit: Improves cardiovascular fitness, coordination, lower body muscular strength and endurance, abdominal strength and endurance and seated balance.

Seated Jumping Jacks

  • Sit toward the front edge of a chair.
  • Take both arms and both legs out to the sides and back in.
  • Tighten abdominal muscles to maintain balance.
  • Try to do seated jumping jacks like that for 10 seconds.
  • Increase the time as you are able.

seated jumping jacks senior exercise

Benefit: Improves cardiovascular fitness, coordination, lower body muscular strength and endurance, upper body muscular strength and endurance, abdominal strength and endurance, and seated balance.

Shoulder Rolls

  • Slowly move shoulders in a circle backwards.
  • Do 10-15 repetitions (avoid circling the shoulders forward).

shoulder rolls senior exercise

Benefit: Improves upper body mobility for reaching. Improves rounded shoulder posture often attributed to using computers, tablets or texting posture. Improves upper body circulation, and possibly reduces muscular tension in neck and shoulders associated with stress.

Seated Row

  • Sit with elbows bent at sides.
  • Bend slightly forward at hips
  • Straighten arms toward the floor.
  • Pull arms along the side of the body as you squeeze shoulder blades together.
  • Try to do 10-15 repetitions.

seated row senior exercise

Benefit: Improves upper body strength and endurance for lifting and carrying, opening doors and drawers. Improves rounded shoulder posture often attributed to using computers, tablets or texting.

Trunk Rotation

  • Sit with hands on hips.
  • Rotate slowly to the right and to the left.
  • Try to do 10-15 repetitions.

trunk rotation senior exercise

Benefit: Improves torso strength and endurance to maintain balance while reaching, twisting and walking.

Knee Extension

  • Sit up straight.
  • Keep the left foot on the floor.
  • Extend the right leg.
  • Repeat with the left leg.
  • Try to do 10-15 repetitions.

 knee extension senior exercise

Benefit: Improves lower body strength and endurance to get out of a chair, climb stairs and walk. Improves balance and ability to recover from loss of balance.

Toe Taps

  • Sit with both feet flat on the floor.
  • Lift heels while keeping toes on the floor.
  • Return to flat foot.
  • Lift toes while keeping heels on floor.
  • Return to flat foot.
  • Try to do 10-15 repetitions.

toe taps senior exercise

Benefit: Improves ankle strength, endurance and mobility, which is necessary for walking, balance, recovering from a loss of balance. Also improves lower extremity circulation.

Ankle Circles

  • Slowly make a circle with your foot.
  • Reverse directions.
  • Repeat with opposite foot.
  • Try to do 10-15 repetitions.

ankle circles senior exercise

Benefit: Improves ankle strength, endurance and mobility, which is necessary for walking, balance, recovering from a loss of balance. Also improves lower extremity circulation.

Balance Exercises for Seniors

Single Leg Stance | Tandem Stance | Sit to Stands

Balance exercises can potentially help reduce the risk of falls in older adults.

Single Leg Stance

  • Stand close to a chair, wall or table for support if necessary.
  • Shift your weight to your right leg.
  • Pick up your left foot.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat standing on the left leg.

single leg stance senior exercise

Benefit: Improves balance necessary for dressing, showering, cooking, housekeeping tasks, as well as walking.

Tandem Stance

  • Stand close to a chair, wall or table for support if necessary.
  • Stand as if you are on a tight rope with your right foot about 12 inches in front of your left foot.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat with left leg in front.

tandem stance senior exercise

Benefit: Improves balance necessary for dressing, showering, cooking, housekeeping tasks, as well as walking.

Sit to Stands

  • Sit toward the front of a chair with feet shoulder width apart.
  • Stand up slowly, keeping your weight on your heels.
  • Slowly lower yourself back to the chair.
  • You can make this exercise more challenging by keeping your arms across your chest.
  • Try to do 10 – 15 repetitions.

Benefit: Improves lower body strength, endurance, mobility and balance necessary for getting out of chair, getting out of the car and getting out of bed.

More Senior Exercises Resources

Interested in exploring more resources on senior exercisesand health? Read our articles below: