Functional Exercises For Older Adults

Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic, seniors have spent considerably more time in their homes to avoid transmission. Although these measures have kept elders safe and healthy over the last year, they have also decreased physical activity for many. But as more vaccines are distributed, seniors will have more freedom to leave the house. In the meantime, here are several functional exercises for older adults that can be done at home while watching TV, on the porch, or in the backyard.


The Benefits Of Exercises For Older Adults

There are endless benefits of exercises for older adults, such as better strength and flexibility, which lowers the risk of falls, reduces stress, promotes quality sleep, and boosts immunity. 

Besides that, physical activity may also:

  • Ease inflammation
  • Alleviate chronic health conditions
  • Improve anxiety and depression symptoms




Talk To Your Doctor First

Everybody is different, and depending on your health and abilities, some activities may be better for you than others. For this reason, you should always discuss a new workout regime with your doctor before starting it. 

For example, suppose you have a heart or kidney disease and suffer from swollen legs and ankles. If you wanted to try exercises for older adults to reduce swelling, some activities could cause the excess fluid from your legs to flow into your core. The extra work required to process this fluid can put unnecessary strain on your body could worsen your condition. 

When you get approval, remember to take things slow. Gradually increase the amount of time, weight, or energy you spend to avoid injury. If you have to break your workouts into smaller activities, then allow yourself to do so. Also, make sure to mix things up by trying different activities and make things more fun by listening to your favorite music.


How Often Should Seniors Exercise?

Adults, including seniors, should try to get 150 to 300 minutes of moderate physical activity (such as a brisk walk) every week. If you break it down, that’s about 30 to 60 minutes of exercise five times a week. Seniors, in particular, should incorporate a blend of upper and lower body muscle-strengthening workouts twice a week in addition to regular exercise.


Stretches And Warm-Up Exercises For Older Adults

Regardless of your health and fitness level, it’s best to start with one or more of these stretches and warm-up exercises for older adults.



Upper Body Stretch

  1. Place your feet hip-width apart.
  2. Raise your hands above your head and lace your fingers together.
  3. Slowly lean to your right and hold for up to 20 seconds.
  4. Return to the start position and then slowly learn to your left, holding for 20 seconds.

You can also perform this stretch while sitting, but make sure to keep your back straight while you do it.


Knee-To-Chest Stretch

  1. Lay on the floor with your legs in front of you. If this position causes discomfort, then bend your knees while keeping your feet on the floor.
  2. Carefully raise your knee toward your chest while holding your hamstring and hold for 20 seconds.
  3. Return to the start position and repeat on your other leg.
  4. Alternate each leg, performing 10 stretches per leg.

Like the upper body stretch, you can also do this activity while seated in a chair.


Chair Yoga

Chair yoga is one of the best exercises for older adults because it promotes:

  • Flexibility
  • Balance
  • Strength
  • Stress management

If you have balance problems, you can benefit significantly from chair yoga. Below is a great stretch for your back and spine that also stimulates your intestines.

  1. Sit in a chair with your back straight.
  2. Slowly lean forward as far as you can while keeping your back straight, bringing your torso to your thighs.
  3. Hold this position and breathe deeply five times.


Shoulder Rolls

  1. While either standing or sitting, roll your shoulders carefully toward the ceiling, then lower them slowly.
  2. Repeat this same motion while bringing your shoulders forward, then rolling them down again.


Calf Stretches

To perform standing calf stretches:

  1. While facing a wall, place your hands at eye level.
  2. Put your right leg behind your left leg.
  3. With your right heel on the floor, bend your left knee and hold for 15 to 30 seconds.
  4. Alternate legs, making sure to do this exercise two to four times for each leg.

To do sitting calf stretches:

  1. Find a towel and fold it lengthwise into thirds like a hotdog.
  2. Sit on the floor with your legs extended.
  3. While holding both ends of the towel, wrap it around the sole of your left foot.
  4. Gently pull the towel toward you without bending your knees and hold for 15 to 30 seconds.
  5. Alternate legs and repeat two to four times for each leg.


Balance And Mobility Exercises For Older Adults

Balance problems in seniors are a common issue that increases the chance of falls and drastically affects your wellbeing. But if you make the following activities a regular part of your daily routine, you can reduce this risk and protect your quality of life.




One-Legged Stance

  1. Stand behind a chair and place your hands on the back (pick one that’s heavy enough to support your weight without rocking).
  2. Carefully raise your left foot while trying to balance on your right foot., and hold this position as long as you can.
  3. Alternate feet and repeat.

With this exercise, the ultimate goal is to stand on one foot for one minute without assistance from the chair.


Heel-To-Toe Walk

  1. Place your left foot in front of your right foot, making sure your left heel touches the top of your toes on your right foot.
  2. While keeping your weight on your heel, shift your right foot in front of your left, then put your weight on your toes.
  3. Repeat this activity on each side for 20 steps.


Rock The Boat

  1. Stand up straight while keeping your head level.
  2. Place your feet hip-width apart and press them firmly into the floor.
  3. Move your weight to your left foot and carefully raise your right leg, holding for 30 seconds.
  4. Slowly lower your right leg and shift your weight to your right foot.
  5. Carefully lift your left leg and hold for 30 seconds.
  6. Repeat this exercise five times for each leg.


One-Legged Stance With Arm

  1. While standing beside a chair, put your feet together and your arms at your side
  2. Raise your right hand above your head
  3. Carefully lift your right foot and hold for 10 seconds
  4. Slowly lower your arm and foot and repeat this exercise on your left side.


Marching In Place

  1. Stand straight and raise your left knee as high as possible.
  2. Lower your left knee, then raise your right leg.
  3. Repeat this exercise 20 times for each leg.

If you have poor balance, hold onto a counter to keep yourself from falling.


Toe Lifts

  1. While standing or sitting straight, extend your arms in front of you.
  2. Push your toes and lift yourself as high as possible, then slowly lower yourself, making sure not to lean too far over the counter or chair.
  3. Repeat this exercise up to 20 times.


Upper Body Exercises For Older Adults

Upper body exercises for older adults help slow progressive muscle loss that typically occurs with aging. Seniors need to strengthen these muscle groups to prevent the lower back from overcompensating, as this can cause muscle strain and lead to other injuries.


Chest Exercises For Older Adults

Wall Push-Ups

  1. Stand approximately three feet in front of a wall with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Place your hands on the wall and lower your body toward it while keeping your back straight.
  3. Slowly push yourself up and repeat this motion 10 times.


Ab Exercises For Older Adults

Side Bends

  1. While sitting in a chair, place your feet on the floor.
  2. Put your left hand behind your head and extend your right arm to your side.
  3. Slowly lean on your right side toward the ground while squeezing your obliques.
  4. Bring yourself to the starting position, ensuring that your chest is straight and your feet are flat.
  5. Repeat five times per side.


Seated Knee Lifts

  1. Sit on the floor or in a chair with your back straight.
  2. Carefully bring your knees to your chest simultaneously until they touch your chest or abs.
  3. Do the sets of 15 to 20 knee lifts, allowing yourself to rest between sets.


Lower Body Exercises For Older Adults

Lower body exercises for older adults can help ease arthritis and osteoporosis and promote bone strength. Not only that, but it can also reduce the risk of hip injuries, ease body pain, and so much more.




Single-Stair Steps

  1. While wearing a pair of shoes with good support, stand at the bottom step of a staircase.
  2. While holding the railing, step onto the first step, then back to the floor.
  3. Don’t walk up the entire stairway; only take the first step.
  4. Repeat this activity 20 times, allow yourself to rest, then repeat.


Back Leg Raises

  1. Stand behind a sturdy chair and hold the back.
  2. Carefully extend your left leg straight behind you while keeping your knees and toes straight.
  3. Hold for one second, then slowly lower your leg.
  4. Alternate sides and repeat 10 to 15 times for each leg.

This is one of the best exercises for older adults because it strengthens your glutes and lower back, which happen to be two of the largest muscle groups. 


Tips For Exercises For Older Adults

Tips for Outdoor Activities

  • If possible, invest in a quality jacket and hat, as well as f shoes, boots, or traction shoe covers.
  • Try to get fresh air daily — even if it means sitting on your porch or getting the mail.
  • If you go on walks, stick to areas that you know and always bring your phone (while making sure to turn on GPS tracking).


Tips for Indoor Activities 

  • Invest in workout equipment you can use at home, such as dumbbells, resistance bands, or even a stationary bike. Look on Facebook Marketplace or secondhand stores for discounted items.
  • Find a mall nearby and see how many laps you can walk (don’t forget your mask!). Consider going earlier in the day to avoid large crowds.
  • Find a local community center, senior center, or pool that offers class exercises for older adults.
  • Dance around your home for extra movement
  • Use commercial breaks as a chance to walk a lap around your home, do wall pushups, or any one of the activities on this list.


Free Virtual Exercise Classes For Older Adults

You can find hundreds of free exercise classes designed specifically for older adults on YouTube. However, SeniorPlanet.org is another website worth checking out. There, you can join dozens of free virtual classes based on your interest and skill level.



If you or a loved one need assistance around the home, our highly qualified in-home caregivers can help. To learn about our process, read our blog about hiring a caregiver through MeetCaregivers. You can also contact us at info@ or call 1-888-541-1136.

We update our blog every Monday, so check in to get new and helpful information about senior care.

  • “14 Exercises for Seniors to Improve Strength and Balance.” Philips Lifeline, https://tinyurl.com/7mrwdywe.
  • Corzo, Jorge F. “At-Home Workouts for Seniors – COVID-19, Exercise / Fitness, Featured, Health Topics.” Hackensack Meridian Health, 14 May 2020, https://tinyurl.com/7acemnt2.
  • DailyCaring Editorial Team. “3 Simple Exercises for Swollen Legs and Ankles in Seniors.” DailyCaring, https://tinyurl.com/cjuykv8n.
  • “Exercise Guide for Seniors.” EVELO, https://tinyurl.com/2rutuywe.
  • Millstein, Rachel, et al. “COVID-Safe Winter Physical Activity Ideas: A Special Focus on Older Adults: SBM.” Society of Behavioral Medicine, https://tinyurl.com/588yvrkf.

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