Fun in a Chair!

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When I started being in charge of activities for a memory unit, I also inherited the leadership of exercise class. We had about twenty residents and most of them had limited mobility, so chair exercises were almost all any of them could do. Needless to say, most of them were reluctant to even try exercising in a chair! Being a newbie to leading an exercise class but an old veteran at taking exercises classes, I forged on!

The Challenge

I was determined to make our exercise time fun, so the first thing I did was find some upbeat music in a genre the residents would enjoy. I worked on my routine at home and channeled all the exercise classes I had ever taken for the clues to a great workout. I knew each movement would have to be pretty gentle, so I also kept that in mind.

From Top to Bottom

I eased into my routine by doing gentle head rolls and shoulder shrugs. I counted out our movements in four beats to begin with and after a few classes I increased some of the moves to eights. This seemed to really help the clients anticipate each movement change. I would start on one side of the body for each movement and then go to the other side with the same movement. If possible I’d then have them do both sides together – first in four beats then in eight beats.

I counted out pretty loud and always tried to keep a smile on my face. I encouraged those who had trouble with moves by praising their attempts and calling them out by name. It really helped when the music had a good beat. I played the music medium loud so they could still hear me counting out the beats. These can be done at home just as easily as in a group!

Remind your elders often to keep the moves rather slow and very gentle. Also remind them that none of the movements should cause pain. Tell them to only do what feels good.

Upper-Half Movements

  • One side for four counts, then the other side – repeat with eight counts for all the movements. Stay seated throughout the workout
  • Gentle head rolls in one direction – then change to the other direction
  • Head to the chest, then slightly tipped back
  • Shoulder shrugs – lift shoulders to ear, one side at a time
  • Shoulder rolls – roll one side at a time forward, then switch sides
  • Roll one side at a time backward, then switch sides
  • Roll shoulders forward at the same time
  • Roll shoulders backward at the same time

Remember to do sets of four first, then sets of eight for all the movements.

  • Reaching over the head with arms – one side, then the other – then both arms together
  • Wrist rolls – Hold one arm out at a time with hands in a fist and roll the wrist in one direction – then the other – alternating arms. Repeat with open hands
  • Punches forward – one fist at a time (they loved the punches!)
  • Alternate over head punches with front punches
  • Chicken wings – one wing at a time – then both wings together
  • Side stretches – lift one arm at a time over head, then bend at the waist – alternating sides
  • Waist stretches – crossing arms, move to right and then to left

Lower Body Workout

  • Stretch out one leg at a time – point the toe, then relax, fours and eights
  • Change to other leg and repeat
  • Put heal on floor and gently bend down – do not bounce – gentle movements – repeat on the other side
  • Hold leg up and do foot circles – remember your counts – then alternate to other side
  • Marching while sitting – lift one heel at a time and alternate with the other
  • Kicks to the front – alternating sides
  • Knee lifts – alternating sides
  • Combine front kicks with knee lifts – alternating sides
  • Knee grabs – bend at waist and hold the knees – hold for four counts – come up – then for eight counts

Cool Down

  • Do the shoulder shrugs, the shoulder rolls, the arm reaches, and end with deep breaths while reaching with both arms over head – then exhale while bringing them down
  • Always clap at the end of the routine. Praise each person who participated!

Results – Fantastic

By keeping my attitude very positive and knocking on each door to encourage them to participate, I had great results with my chair exercises. It was wonderful to see many of the residents become more flexible and improve their ability to move.

After a week or two, they all seemed to really look forward to the exercises. There was always a lot of laughter and I guess others could tell we were having fun because staff members would wander in and join in the fun.

I encourage you all to do these exercises each morning at the same time. I believe you will also be surprised how popular you become!

(This article was reviewed May, 2024 since it originally published December 2016.)

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