Exercises for seniors are an important part of everyday life.
However, people over the age of 65 can develop health issues including reduced coordination, strength, balance, joint flexibility, respiratory function and increased blood pressure. A risk of a fall also increases as we get older.
Falls are the main cause of unintentional injury and hospitalisation among older Australians, and more than one in three people over the age of 65 experience a fall each year.
There are steps you can take to prevent falls, and one of them is doing exercises for seniors at home to improve your balance and strength.
Daily home exercises for seniors can be a great preventative measure against decline in mobility, and help you to feel more confident and energetic throughout your day.
Exercises for seniors at home
The human body responds to exercise no matter its age, and the wonderful thing is that these exercises for seniors can be adapted to suit your capabilities and personal needs at any fitness level.
The benefits of exercise for senior health are numerous. Exercise not only influences your mental well-being and happiness, but can also improve your immune system, brain, heart and muscles.
Along with a healthy diet, these benefits can contribute to a better quality of life and increase your safety while living independently in your own home.
A recent website launched by a team of Australian physiotherapists, Safe Exercises at Home (www.saferexercisesathome.org), offers clinical and academic expertise in exercises for seniors and other forms of physical activity for people with mobility limitations.
Associate Professor Michele Callisaya, a physiotherapist and researcher based at Monash University and Peninsula Health (partners in the National Centre for Healthy Ageing), contributed to this expertise with her specialist knowledge in exercises for seniors and falls prevention.
Michele says daily exercises for seniors help her clients maintain independence in their own home as they can increase their mobility and be more stable on their feet – decreasing their risk of a fall.
“I was concerned that older people were having to stop their weekly gym or bowls sessions during COVID-19 restrictions and also missing out on incidental physical activity such as a walk down to the local shops. The new website provides exercises for seniors at three levels of fitness and function that can be done at home to maintain strength, balance and mobility.”
If you are used to moving about during your day, here are a few exercises for seniors from the website that you can incorporate into regular activities.
These exercises for seniors should be performed next to a table or bench top to support you if you feel unstable, and at a pace that feels comfortable for you. And if you have fallen in the past 12 months, or have any pain or concerns regarding exercise, you should see your GP or physiotherapist before starting.
Safe exercises for seniors at home
Safe exercise for seniors #1 – Sit to stand
This exercise for seniors can help with getting up and down from a chair or toilet, and moving in and out of a car. You can practice these between commercial breaks on TV.
- Choose a sturdy chair that’s not too low
- Stand up slowly from a chair, keeping your knees slightly apart.
- Make it harder by using your arms less or not at all
- Then lower yourself back down into the chair
- Repeat 5 times
Safe exercise for seniors #2 – Side leg raise/sideways walking
This exercise for seniors improves stability and can be done while you wait for the microwave to finish.
- Start to walk sideways with slow steps along a bench or table
- Once you reach then end on the table or bench walk sideways back to the start
Safe exercise for seniors #3 – Heel raises
This exercise for seniors helps with walking and climbing stairs and can be done in the time it takes for the kettle to boil.
- Holding onto a bench or table, lift both heels off the floor and stand on your toes for three seconds, then slowly lower your heels to the floor
- Repeat 5 times
Safe exercise for seniors #4 – Knee raise
This exercise for seniors helps with climbing stairs and getting in and out of cars.
- Holding onto a table or bench, lift a knee to hip level and hold it for three seconds
- If you feel unsteady or have difficulty with the height or time, lift for a shorter time and not as high
- Repeat with the other leg
- Then repeat 4 to 8 times.
Safe exercises for seniors outside
For those seniors who are able to exercise outside, a short walk around your neighbourhood in fine weather can help reduce pain, boost your mental health and promote social engagement with your friends and community.
Guidelines recommend 30 minutes of exercise for seniors most days of the week. But it is important to build up slowly and 30 minutes can be broken down to smaller blocks e.g. 10 minutes x 3 per day.
If you have trouble getting motivated, write down what you are going to do and when you are going to do it. Tell a friend or family, or even better go together.
A MePACS mobile alarm can help seniors feel safe and independent while you are away from home, as the device is splash proof, has a GPS locator and works anywhere with mobile reception.
There are also fitness classes usually available for seniors at local community centres, gyms and recreational places to accommodate for each level of physical health and mobility.
These can include water aerobics, tai chi and even dance classes.
Top tips for exercises for seniors
- Complete exercises next to a table or bench top to support your balance
- Start slowly and understand your personal limits
- Rest in between exercises
- Stop immediately if you feel any pain, discomfort or more than moderate shortness of breath
Safe Exercise At Home For Seniors
Exercises at home have a range of health benefits for seniors, including improving mood and reducing risk of diabetes, stroke, cancer and even dementia.
Importantly, exercises at home can also help seniors maintain physical function and independence, so they have the freedom to go out and be active, whether that is a round of golf or a walk around the neighbourhood. It really is the best medicine!
Associate Professor Michele Callisaya is a physiotherapist and researcher based at Monash University and Peninsula Health (partners in the National Centre for Healthy Ageing), specialising in exercise to prevent falls and dementia.
With the launch of the Safe Exercise At Home website (https://www.safeexerciseathome.org.au/), we sat down to have a chat about how seniors can keep fit both at home and out in the community.
1. What types of exercises for seniors at home are important?
“People might be most familiar with cardiovascular exercise, which focuses on keeping your heart, lungs and blood vessels fit. Around 30 minutes of this type of exercise for seniors is recommended on most days of the week, so that might be something like going for a walk or a bike ride.
There’s also strengthening exercises where you lift weights and that’s particularly important for your keeping your muscles and bones strong. It’s great for general, functional exercises for seniors at home like being able to stand up from a chair or climbing stairs.
You might be less familiar with balance exercises for seniors at home, but they are equally as important. They help to maintain mobility and reduce the likelihood of a fall. They can be as simple as standing with your feet close together or on one leg, but they can also include slow movements like tai chi.
The great thing is that you don’t have to exercise all at once – you can do it in 10 minute blocks, 3 times per day, depending on your fitness and comfort level. In addition, some you might not think of some activities, like gardening, as exercise – but the good news is that they are!
You can check out our website for more examples.”
2. What is the best way to exercise at home if you are a senior with limited mobility?
“A great way for a senior with limited mobility to exercise at home is to start slowly by breaking up the amount of time that spent sitting down each day. If you’re watching TV for a certain amount of hours per day, you can always get up during commercial breaks and go for a short walk around the house or stand up and down ten times.
The Safe Exercise At Home website was designed to offer expertise in exercise and other forms of physical activity for older people and people with mobility limitations.
It’s not intended to replace individual health professional care though. So if you have any questions about what you can safely do, or if you have health problems, you should seek professional advice from your doctor, a physiotherapist or exercise physiologist before you start exercising at home.
On this website, we recommend that seniors with limited mobility start at level 1, which are exercises at home that would suit those who may walk slowly, use a walking aid, have a medical condition that limits activity, or for someone who needs assistance with housework or other daily activities.
Level 2 exercises for seniors at home are designed for those who may have well controlled medical conditions and can also walk down the street comfortably without a walking aid.
Building up from level 1 to level 2 may take some time, but just go at your own pace and make sure you are comfortable. If you experience any pain or discomfort, stop the exercise and see your doctor if necessary.”
3. What is the best way to exercise at home if you are a senior with a higher fitness level?
“You would be at level 3 of our recommendations for exercises for seniors at home if you’re going for regular walks for at least 30 minutes, gardening for an hour or attending a gym.
It’s really great to try a variety of exercises for seniors at home, but if you prefer to exercise at home rather than in your neighbourhood, you could use an exercise bike or treadmill. For strength exercises at home, try lifting ordinary items like tins of food, water bottles or plastic milk bottles filled with sand or water.”
4. How can seniors exercise at home safely?
“It’s so important to make sure you have a safe space when you exercise at home. This would involve removing mats or objects that may be a tripping hazard, and standing next to a bench or table so you know you’ve got support for your balance.
Wearing comfortable clothing and a good pair of sport shoes instead of slippers is always a good idea, and so is drinking plenty of water to keep hydrated.
If you are watching online exercises on your iPad or laptop, be mindful of any cords and ensure they are kept out of the way as well.”
5. How can seniors stay motivated when they exercise at home?
“There’s lots of things you can do to motivate yourself to exercise, but one of the easiest is to choose physical activities that you like and even put on some of your favourite music, the radio or a podcast while you do them.
At the start of the week, you might plan what exercises you want do and write them down, so you feel a sense of accomplishment when you are able to tick them off your list.
Even better, telling someone else about your intended exercises or asking them to exercise with you, while still maintaining your distance, certainly makes it more enjoyable.
There’s also motivating stories from other seniors on our website to read.
Remember to reward yourself for your hard work!”
The exercises for seniors in this article are not intended to replace professional care for individual health. If you have any concerns or questions about what you can safely do, you should seek professional advice from your doctor, physiotherapist, or other health professional with expertise in exercise prescription.
Associate Professor Michele Callisaya
A/Prof Michele Callisaya is a physiotherapist at Peninsula Health and Monash University and an NHMRC Boosting Dementia Leadership fellow. She is also a Senior Lecturer at the Menzies Institute for Medical Research, University of Tasmania. Photo Credit: Peter Mathew