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Seated Exercise Routine

Seated exercise is perfect for those in senior living communities. Based on an individuals physical ability, doing standing exercise might be exhausting, painful, or dangerous. Seated exercises are a great way to still maintain fitness but in a low impact way.

Being sedentary can have negative health effects; it is a risk factor for cardiometabolic disease and all-cause mortality (1). A study conducted in an assist living facility found that 80% of waking hours were spent sedentary. This study also found that more sedentary individuals had more difficulty with getting up from being seated, poorer overall mobility, and more fear of having a fall (2). The more physical exercise we can encourage our residents to take part in the stronger their muscles will be in the long run. Having stronger muscles will help prevent falls and maintain mobility for longer.

During this exercise routine, I also like putting on music in the background and time each movement to the sound of the beat. Movement and music is especially beneficial for residents with dementia. A study in Taiwan found that agitation was decreased after the introduction of a music movement intervention. Reducing agitated behaviors is important as it will also reduce the use of any restraints (chemical/physical) that might be needed to calm down a resident (3).

For each step, I typically do 8 reps or 20-30 seconds. More reps or length can be added for a more intense exercise or repeat the whole set for a longer session. Be sure to remind your residents to only do what is comfortable for them. If anything is causing pain, stop that exercise and only do the parts that they can do comfortably. Some days I would host a class with just the upper body exercises for residents with leg mobility issues. For residents with good mobility you could even hold the class standing.

Seated Exercise Routine:

Deep Breathing: 3 breaths in and out

Warm up - Head to toe making circles:




Forearms (like you are doing disco arms)

Wrists (hands)

Pointer Fingers



Ankles (feet)


Rub hands together (warm them up)

12345 fingers and close fist

Thumb to finger (bring each finger to your thumb)

Big finger stretch and make a fist

4 fingers up and down (tips of fingers touch the palm of the hand)

Hands up, hands down (extending at the wrist)

Piano Fingers (pretend like you are playing the piano)

Thumbs up (move thumb up and down)

Hands resting on lap, lifting one finger at a time

Shake hands out (Jazz hands)

Wrist stretch (put one hand out like a high five, and press back on the fingers with the other hand)


Reach both hands up (good morning stretch, yawn)

Reach both hands down (as far as what is comfortable for you)

Row the Boat

Pull the rope (pretending there is an imaginary rope in front of you that you pull)

Boxing Punches

Arms scissoring across (under and over)

Overhead Press

Side Press (chest extension)

Elbow Extension (arms out, palms facing up, bring palms up to shoulders)

Shoulder Stretch (arm goes across the body, other arm supports the elbow)



Knee ups (Go up out up then down)

Leg to the side (hip opener)

Jumping (just lifting the feet barely off the ground)

Marching in place

Running in place


Lift legs up, feet up and down

Up and down on your toes

Up and down on your heels

Up and down going from toe toe to heel heel

Full Body Exercises:

Jumping Jacks (legs out and arms out)

Kick Boxing (kicking and punching with opposite hands and feet)

Side Twists (twisting at the waist, hands clasped in front)

Back and Chest Extension (straighten back and release, hands resting on knees)


Look up and down

Look Left Center Right

Ear to Shoulder

Neck Retraction - making a double chin

Shoulder Lift


Big Smile

Big Frown

Open Eyes Wide

Puffy Cheeks

Mouth open wide (pretend like you screaming on a roller coaster)

Facial Rub: temples, cheeks, bridge of nose, and forehead

Deep Breathing and sit for 1 minute meditation

Scientific Research on Physical Activities

  1. Owen, N., Sparling, P. B., Healy, G. N., Dunstan, D. W., & Matthews, C. E. (2010). Sedentary Behavior: Emerging Evidence for a New Health Risk. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 85(12), 1138–1141.

  2. Leung, P.-M., Ejupi, A., van Schooten, K. S., Aziz, O., Feldman, F., Mackey, D. C., … Robinovitch, S. N. (2017). Association between Sedentary Behaviour and Physical, Cognitive, and Psychosocial Status among Older Adults in Assisted Living. BioMed Research International, 2017, 1–7.

  3. Sung, H.-chuan, Chang, S.-min, Lee, W.-li, & Lee, M.-shinn. (2006). The effects of group music with movement intervention on agitated behaviours of institutionalized elders with dementia in Taiwan. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 14(2), 113–119.

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