17 Simple & Easy Exercises For Older Adults

Laurel McLaughlin

It’s no secret that staying active is the key to healthy aging and high-quality life.

Even as ambulation changes for older adults, there are ways to adapt exercise to encourage movement and increase the range of motion.

In this guide, we’ll review some simple stretches - both static stretches and dynamic stretches- for you to do with your loved one.

The Benefits Of Physical Activity For Older Adults

Physical activity can greatly improve a senior's range of movement and overall quality of life.

Benefits of physical activity include:

What To Do Before Exercising

There are two types of stretching - static and dynamic. Static stretches are held for a duration of time, whereas dynamic stretches have light movement. Both are important and beneficial. 

Before engaging in dynamic stretches, check in with your doctor or physical therapist to make sure you don’t have any limitations and assess any risk of injury. Be especially cautious about back pain, arthritis, or old injuries. Be mindful of the muscle groups that might be weaker and need more focus.

Most of these body stretches can be completed with a seated starting position. Start with a small number of repetitions and then increase as you identify your strengths and abilities. 

To begin a gentle stretch routine, start with some deep breaths to warm up and connect with the body. Take a big deep breath in, and exhale loudly. Repeat three to four times a week. Consider asking a friend or family member to join in this keeps motivation and accountability high!

What Types of Simple Exercises Are There For Older Adults?

There is a wide range of exercises for a senior to incorporate into their daily schedule. From exercises that engage the lower body to upper body exercises and arm stretches.

If possible, try working the whole body to help make the most of your workout. 


Lower Body Exercises

1. March In Place

Try picking up your feet one at a time, by lifting at the knee.

Alternate between the right leg and left leg. For a static, hamstring stretch, lift from the knee and hold in place.

2. Sit & Kick

Kick each leg, by kicking from the knee. Pretend you are kicking a soccer ball. Repeat on the opposite leg.

3. Ankle Circles

Lift your foot about six inches off the ground and make circles in the air with your ankle. Repeat in both directions and on the opposite side.

4. Leg Lifts

Stretch their legs by lifting and holding for a few seconds on each side. To take it one step further, point and flex each foot.

5. Toe Stands

If you feel comfortable standing, come to a standing position on a countertop. Slowly go up onto their toes causing a deep calf stretch.

Upper Body Exercises

6. Arm Circles

Stretch your arms out to the side and make large circles with your arms. The right arm and left arm can do this both at once.

7. Arm Lifts

Lift each arm up and hold them shoulder-width apart. Lift each arm up one at a time and then both together. If that is getting easy, use small hand weights or even soup cans to add some weight.

8. Bicep Curls

With small weights or soup cans,  bend your arms up towards your shoulder in a bicep curl. This can be done at the same time or by switching from the right arm to the left arm.

9. Going For A Swim

Move your loved one's arms as if they are going for a swim. This will help build arm strength and increase shoulder mobility.

10. Reach for the Stars

Pretend you are taking the stars out of the sky by reaching one arm above the opposite shoulder. Repeat on both sides.

11. Hand Grabs

Don’t forget your hands! Open and close your fist creating movement in your fingers. Repeat with the right hand and then the left hand.

12. Gentle Neck Stretches

Gently practice turning your head from side to side. Then, nod up and down. 

13. Rolling Shoulders

Lift and roll your shoulders forward. After, switch directions and roll in the opposite direction. 

14. Core Twists

Place your hands on your hips and twist, gently from side to side.

15. Toe Touches

While sitting up straight or standing, keep your back straight and bend from the hip flexors towards your toes. This will create a light stretch in the low back.

16. Upper Shoulder Stretch

With hands on hips, push your chest forward and elbows back, bringing the shoulder blades closer together.

17. Side Stretch

To get a good stretch down the side, reach your right arm into the air, reach towards the left side and hold it in place. After, reverse and lift the left arm into the air and reach to the right side and hold.


What About Cardio Exercise?

If you feel like moving a little bit more, cardio exercises can get the heart moving.

Some cardio exercises that are great for older adults include:

  • Walking

  • Aquatic workouts

  • Chair Aerobics

  • Games such as tossing a ball back and forth

How To Stay Consistent With Exercise

Not everyone enjoys exercising and that’s okay. If you're apprehensive to get active, think about ways you can creatively encourage activity. 

  • Do the exercises with a friend or family member - doing things with someone else makes everything more fun. 

    • Sometimes people prefer doing stretches with others  

  • Make exercise part of the daily routine. 

    • Find a time that you feel your best physically and would be most willing to engage in physical activity.

  • Put on some music or do a sing-a-long

  • Hide the exercises in other daily activities- for example, park a little further away or while tidying the home. 

  • Remember that these activities do not have to be done all at once! They can be scattered throughout the day while doing other activities. 

Even with gentle stretching, you can improve your quality of life and wellness.