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Care Guides > 25 Gentle Exercises For Older Adults

25 Gentle Exercises For Older Adults

Older woman lifting light dumbbells

Estimated Reading Time: 15 minutes

Exercise and nutrition are two essential parts of a healthy lifestyle. As we get older, regular exercise becomes increasingly important, as staying active can fend off things like heart disease and diabetes. Improving flexibility, strength and endurance will help you better regulate blood sugar while having stronger bones and a healthy weight in later life.

Keep reading to discover some gentle yet effective exercises for older adults. We’ve included several different exercise types, along with the benefits of exercise and how to create a fitness plan that works for your lifestyle.


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  1. Walking exercises
  2. Balance exercises
  3. Cardio exercises
  4. Leg exercises
  5. Back exercises
  6. Upper body exercises
  7. Chair exercises



Walking Exercises

Walking is ideal to incorporate into a weekly exercise routine. It can be done almost anywhere - including inside your home! Walking is a great way for you or your loved one to get moving, without the movement itself being overly strenuous. Here are two simple yet effective walking exercises for the elderly.


1. Walking backwards and forwards

Walk from one room to another and back again if you still feel steady on your feet. Be sure to time how long this takes and try to beat your time each day.


2. Knee lifts

When standing up straight, lift your knees one at a time as high as you can get them. Do this 20 times. If you feel you need to hold onto something then you can do this with your hands placed on a kitchen counter or high chair. Knee lifts are a brilliant way of improving balance.





Gentle Balance Exercises

By improving your balance, you can stand tall and feel more confident when walking about. Here are six gentle balance exercises.


1. Head rotations

Doing these can help improve balance in situations when vision changes are involved. If you like, then head rotations can be performed sitting down at first, before you work your way up to doing them while standing.

Stand upright with your feet in line with your hips. Gently rotate your head from left to right and then up and down for 30 or so seconds. Repeat this several times.

If you start to feel dizzy then either move your head more slowly or stop the exercise until this feeling of dizziness goes away.



2. Foot taps

Start by standing in front of a step (the video below shows what a step is and how to use one). If you don’t have this piece of equipment then you can instead do this at the bottom of a staircase or with a sturdy stool.

Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Gradually lift your left leg and tap the top of the step or stair. Repeat this 15 to 20 times with your left leg before switching to the right leg.

As your balance improves, you can step onto the stair, rather than just tapping it (if you feel comfortable doing so).



3. Marching

This very recognisable exercise will help improve your balance and movement. You can hold onto the back of a chair for added support while marching if needed.

Stand upright with your feet hip-width apart. Slowly bend one of your knees and lift your foot until your thigh is parallel to the floor. If you can’t lift your thigh that high then no need to worry! Instead, just lift it as high as you can. Alternate legs until you’ve done around 10 marches on each leg.



4. Single leg raises

To do a single leg raise, stand upright with your feet directly under your hips to provide support. Lift your left foot one inch off the ground and focus on not leaning to the right. You should keep your weight on your right leg while maintaining this upright position. Keep your left foot raised for 10 seconds before returning it to the ground. Alternate this exercise between both feet and do five or so repetitions on each side.

If this is your first time doing single leg raises then use a chair or kitchen counter for support. Once you feel comfortable, you can then perform the exercise without any additional support.



5. Rock the boat

This is a simple yet really effective balancing technique that can help your balance while standing.

Start by standing with your feet hip-width apart, making sure they’re firmly planted on the floor. Gradually lift your left leg out to the side or behind you and maintain this pose for 30 or so seconds. Repeat this on your right leg and do five repetitions on each side.

For an added challenge and a trickier pose, suspend your leg in the air while doing this.



6. Body circles

This balancing exercise involves some movements that can be challenging for older adults so you may want to approach with caution if it’s your first time. Alternatively, a sturdy chair or kitchen counter can provide some much-needed extra support.

Begin by standing upright with your feet hip-width apart. Keeping your lower body in place and your upper body straight, gradually lean forward. Then, lean slowly to the left, back and right, moving your body in a circular motion.

When doing this, be careful not to lean too far forwards or backwards. Holding your hands out like an aeroplane might make balancing easier.






Cardio Exercises

Taking part in some slightly more strenuous activities will leave you feeling even more energised! Cardio will also work wonders for how you’re feeling - it can boost your mood and improve your self-esteem.

Here are our three favourite cardio exercises for the elderly.


1. Gentle walking

The simple act of moderate aerobic activity like walking is the easiest and most accessible exercise you can do in your own home as an older adult. If you walk outside of your home, all you need to do is slip on a pair of shoes and be on your way!


According to the Arthritis Foundation, walking offers numerous health benefits, including:

  • Improved circulation
  • Stronger bones, muscles and joints
  • Living longer
  • Feeling more upbeat
  • Better sleeping pattern
  • Improved breathing

For the best results, try and walk for 10 to 20 minutes at a time (if you feel up for it). This walking can take place in your own home or in and around nearby areas.


2. Static bike

Cycling is another brilliant and often relaxing way to fulfil your cardio needs. According to Harvard Health Publishing, cycling is especially beneficial for older adults with age-related stiffness or pain in their joints as it’s a fairly low-impact physical activity. Unlike walking or running, you aren’t putting all your weight on your legs.

While cycling outdoors will allow you to soak up any nearby views, a static bike will enable you to exercise indoors. Most static bikes offer settings to emulate different terrains like rolling hills. Cycling is also great for building leg strength.


3. Rowing

A rowing machine can work wonders and provide an indoor workout that targets several different muscle groups. If you don’t own a rowing machine then just about every gym does.

Rowing machines are popular amongst the elderly as you’re in a safe and seated position throughout. What’s more, you’re in charge of how intense the exercise gets.

Rowing has several benefits, including increasing core strength and improving posture, working the majority of muscles in your body and raising the amount of oxygen your body can utilise during exercise (which is linked to decreasing illnesses in older adults).


Elderly woman using a rowing machine





Gentle Leg Exercises

Through leg and toe exercises, you can strengthen your lower body while improving balance and control. Because falls are fairly common amongst the elderly, doing some regular leg exercises will help you or your loved one feel more confident and mobile.


1. Half squats

These are perfect if you have difficulty performing full squats. If you need some extra support then you can use a chair or kitchen counter to balance yourself.

To do a half squat, simply bend your knees as comfortably as possible (while holding onto the chair or counter if needed), then go back into your standing position.

Doing this repeatedly can help improve your balance while strengthening your knees, legs and hips.


2. Knee extensions

This is another exercise for older adults which is amazing for improving balance and the ability to comfortably stand. Knee extensions can also help enhance the amount of motion in the knees.

Sit in a chair and straighten out your right knee for a few seconds. Then do the same with your other knee. Repeat these two steps around 10 to 15 times for each leg.



3. Ankle circles

This leg exercise can improve flexibility and also doubles up as a nice warm-up that’ll ease you into more strenuous activities.

Depending on how comfortable you feel, ankle circles can either be performed sitting down or standing up.

Lift your right leg off the floor and rotate your ankle 5 to 7 times. Then do the same in the opposite direction. Repeat these two steps for your left ankle.



4. Walking heel to toe

This is an exercise for older adults which we’d highly recommend as it’s easy to do and will improve your balance, allowing you to feel confident when walking around.

Put your left foot in front of your right foot, ensuring the heel of your left foot is touching the toes of your right foot. Then place your right foot in front of your left, putting weight on your heel and ensuring your heel touches your toes.

You should start to feel some benefits after a while when walking this way for 20 to 25 steps every day or so.



5. Side leg raises

To do a side leg raise, get a chair and stand behind it with your feet slightly apart. Lift your right leg to the side while keeping your back straight. As you do this, your toe should be facing forwards. Then, lower your left leg and repeat the exercise with your right leg.

Doing this 10 to 15 times with each leg will help improve your balance.






Back Exercises

If you find back pain to be a persistent and pesky issue then remember that this is totally normal amongst millions of other people. With that being said, there are plenty of back muscle strengthening exercises that will give you some much-needed stability. Here are four of our favourites.


1. Glute bridge

Glute bridges are a great way to improve strength in your spine, core and legs.

Begin by laying on your back on a comfortable floor, such as a carpet or exercise mat. Place your feet flat on the floor with your knees pointing to the ceiling. Your arms should be on the floor, along the sides of your body. Engaging your outer hips and glutes, push your hips up so they’re slightly raised off the floor. Then, gently lower your hips back down to the floor. Give yourself a couple of seconds to relax before doing this again.

Repeat this exercise 10 to 12 times.



2. Shoulder shrugs

Shoulders play a huge role in posture, particularly for older adults. Having strong shoulders can help prevent back pain.

To do a shoulder shrug, start in a standing or seated position, depending on what feels more comfortable for you. Raise your shoulders upwards - doing this may cause some tension in your neck. Relax your shoulders back down to their natural position.

Repeat this several times. For an added challenge, hold a light dumbbell in each hand while doing this.


3. Standing lumbar extension

This simple extension works your entire back and is a great exercise for older adults, thanks to its lower intensity. Once you’ve got the basic motion figured out then you can start to bend further and increase your flexibility. Doing this will help strengthen the muscles that support your spine.

Start by standing upright with your feet facing forward and your arms at your side. Put your hands on your hips for support. Bend your spine backwards - you should feel a good stretch throughout your spine. Hold this position for three seconds before returning to the starting position.

Repeat this 8 to 12 times.



4. Reverse leg lifts

Reverse leg lifts while standing are brilliant for your glutes and lower back. This is a fairly advanced movement so you might need to work your way up to it.

Begin by standing upright, holding onto something sturdy like a chair for added balance if needed. Lift your right foot slightly off the ground, pointing your right leg straight behind you. Hold this position for five seconds before putting your foot back on the ground. Then do the same with your left leg.

Do this movement five times on each leg. We’d recommend aiming for a series of 3-5 sets, taking a short break between each set.






Upper Body Exercises

There are loads of upper body exercises for elderly people to do, including training with dumbbells (or getting more creative with what you lift!) Either way, these exercises will leave you feeling stronger and ready to take on the world. Here are our four favourite upper body exercises.


1. Head turns

To do a head turn, simply move your head in an exaggerated and prolonged fashion, holding your head in place at each side. When doing this, make sure your back is straight and your shoulders are relaxed.

If you feel comfortable with this then the next step is to perform circular movements with your neck. Doing this is important for maintaining a mobile neck in situations where you need to know what’s going on around you like driving.

This incredibly simple exercise is still a really important one for older adults as it’ll help keep your head and neck mobile.


2. Close grip floor press

This is a slightly more challenging upper body exercise which will work your chest and shoulders.

To perform a close grip floor press, lie on the floor with your knees bent and feet flat. Hold a light dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing each other and your elbows bent at 90º. The top half of your arms should be on the floor and your elbows tucked close to your torso.

Exhale and press the dumbbells up towards the ceiling. Gradually lower the dumbbells and repeat as many times as you feel comfortable doing so.



3. Overhead press

This upper body exercise strengthens your shoulders and can be performed sitting or standing. When doing a standing overhead press, your core muscles will be worked, with these being key for lower back health and preventing injuries!

Begin with a light dumbbell in each hand, positioned to the outside of your shoulders. Exhale and press the dumbbells overhead until your arms are extended and the dumbbells are almost touching. Gradually lower the dumbbells and repeat.



4. Reverse grip bent-over row

This exercise puts a fair bit of emphasis on your biceps while helping to keep your shoulders strong and healthy.

Hold a dumbbell in each hand and slightly bend your knees to bring your torso parallel to the floor. Brace your core muscles and extend your arms towards the floor, with your palms facing away from you. Pull the dumbbells towards your waist while squeezing your shoulder blades together. Return to the starting position and repeat.






Chair Exercises

Exercises for older adults can consist of some incredibly simple daily routines that don’t even require you to stand up. These chair exercises can be performed throughout the day and are a brilliant way of improving blood circulation while getting you or your loved one gently moving.


Chair yoga

Chair yoga is a low-impact exercise that improves muscle strength, mobility, balance and flexibility. This highly accessible form of yoga is great for older adults as it puts much less strain on muscles, joints and bones than conventional forms of yoga would do.

Even better, chair yoga has been linked with improving mental health in older adults. Regular participants sleep better, are less likely to feel down and generally report a positive sense of wellbeing.






Stretches

When exercising, properly stretching is really important as this will loosen your muscles and tendons, massively decreasing the risk of exercise-related injuries. Stretching will also get your blood flowing and increase your range of motion when exercising.

For older adults, stretching can be a good way of remaining flexible and active, without having to actually move a great deal.


Stretches while sitting down

  • While sitting or lying, bring your toes towards your shin and then point them towards the floor. Repeat this for both feet
  • When sitting on a chair, lift your leg up off the seat while keeping your knee bent. Return to the starting position and repeat
  • When sitting on a chair with your feet on the floor, bend your knee as much as possible. Repeat this for both legs
  • When sitting on a chair, pull your toes up, tighten your thigh muscle and straighten your knee. If you can, hold this position for around five seconds before gradually relaxing your leg. Repeat this for both legs




Exercises to Avoid

Nothing is off limits, but some exercises may put more strain on your body. To avoid any health risks, we recommend always consulting your doctor before trying any strenuous activities.

If you aren’t sure what exercises to avoid then until you speak to a medical professional, steer clear of full squats, abdominal crunches, heavy weights and any high-intensity interval training.





Creating an Exercise Plan

By creating an exercise plan, you’ll have a structured daily routine to follow, giving your exercises much more focus. This should also help with ensuring you keep exercising regularly, even on days when you aren’t feeling it.

With that being said, you don’t have to make an exercise plan if you don’t want to. As an older adult, your workouts may be a little more sporadic and consist of whatever exercises feel right at the time. If this is the case for you then that’s totally fine as well, just make sure you speak to a professional first.


Here are our five steps to creating an exercise plan:


1. Assess your fitness level

Using some of the exercises we’ve listed in this article, record how many repetitions you’re able to do in each instance. Having some baseline scores can give you benchmarks against which to measure your progress


2. Design your fitness programme

Create a balanced routine by deciding how long you want to exercise on a daily and weekly basis. Look through the exercises we’ve recommended and list how long you’re going to spend on each of these (including how many repetitions). Always be on the lookout for new activities as this will help to keep your exercise more interesting and enjoyable


3. Get any necessary equipment

Though many exercise routines for older adults aren’t going to require that much equipment, you may still need a few things like small dumbbells, an exercise mat and a trusty chair


4. Start exercising

Now you’re ready to get started! As you begin your fitness programme, remember to start slowly and build up gradually. Listen to your body and be flexible with when you choose to exercise. If you feel short of breath or unsteady on your feet then give yourself permission to take some time off


5. Track your progress

One of the best ways to stick to your exercise regimen is by monitoring progress. When it comes to exercises for older adults, you can do this by recording how many of a certain exercise you’re able to do, and then aiming to gradually improve on this number. Or, if you’re timing how quickly you can walk from one part of your home to another, try and beat this time on your next go


Exercise plan





Exercise for the Elderly in Care Homes

Within a care home, activities coordinators will run regular dance and exercise classes. Offering these gentle exercises is important for meeting the physical and emotional needs of residents. Here, exercises can be tailored to the needs and capabilities of individual participants so they’re enjoyable for everyone!


Here are some of our care homes that offer a variety of wellbeing, fitness and exercise classes:

Groveland Park near Dartford

Anisha Grange in Billericay

Kew House in London

Netley Court in Southampton

Harton Grange in South Shields





Helpful Resources

Fun Ways to Get Your Elderly Relative to Exercise

The Importance of Meaningful Activities in a Care Homes

Elderly Nutrition: Healthy Eating Advice

9 Healthy Breakfast Ideas for the Elderly






We’re on a mission to support individuals and their loved ones throughout each stage of their later living journey. For more information, check out everything Lottie has to offer.

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