Healthy Aging – Don’t Just Sit There

Confined to a wheelchair? Sitting too much? Too many meetings? No time to exercise? No way to exercise?

There’s always a way if you put your mind to it. Muscles and joints must be used to keep up strength and flexibility. Strengthening muscles can help you help yourself – use it or lose it!

There are many low-level exercises you can do while seated. Remember, you don’t get bonus points for sitting perfectly still. Let’s look at some of the exercises.

Chin tucks: Look straight ahead. Place one finger on your chin. Gently push your chin straight back toward your neck – there is only a little movement here. This exercise helps to promote better posture and may relieve neck pain for some individuals. Do this five or 10 times.

Shoulder squeeze: Squeeze your shoulder blades together in the back. You’ll feel your chest push out. Hold the position for a count of two. Do this five to 10 times.

Hamstring stretches: Sit at the edge of your chair. Straighten one leg and place your heel on the floor. Bend the other leg and place your foot flat. Reach out ahead of you with both hands. Try to keep your back erect. You will feel a stretching pull on the back of the thigh on your straightened leg. Simply lean forward a little way and try to hold your position for 15 to 30 seconds. Do not bounce or try to touch your toes. Do this three times for each leg.

Hugs: Give yourself a really big hug. You deserve it. Stretch your arms out and then hug yourself again. Do this five to 10 times.

Arm circles: Lift your arms to shoulder height. Your goal is to make small circles with your entire arm. Do 10 forward and 10 backward circles with your palms up and palms down. If necessary, stop and shake your arms, then begin again.

Rear-end walking: While seated, shift your weight to the right. Hike your left hip up and scoot your left hip forward. You will see the left knee telescope ahead of the right knee. Then shift your weight to the left. Scoot your right hip forward. Walk your rear end forward to the edge of the chair, then walk it back. Do this 10 to 20 times.

Sitting push-ups: Place your hands on your chair. Attempt to lift yourself off your chair with your arms. You will feel the elbow joints straighten and the muscles in your arm and upper body tighten. Not being able to lift your buttock off the chair may have more to do with the length of your arms than your arm strength. Try not to lean forward while doing this exercise. Do this 10 to 20 times.

Knee strengthening: Sit comfortably in your chair. Straighten one knee slowly, as fully as possible. Then slowly bend it back and try to put your foot under your chair. Don’t try to force it into a full extension. Do this 10 to 20 times for each leg. If you do not have back pain, you can try to straighten both knees at the same time. Place your hands on your thighs. Slowly straighten your knees and then bend them back fully. Do this 10 to 20 times. As you get stronger, you will be able to lift and straighten both knees and then spread them apart and pull them back together again and lower them to the floor. All in one effort!

Tummy tuck: Place your hands on your belly. This will help you feel the movement as you use your belly muscles to pull your belly in, up and under your ribs. You can even do this exercise lying down. Hold your belly in for five seconds, then slowly relax. Do 10 times. As your abdominal muscles strengthen, you will notice improved posture, improved balance and perhaps less back pain.

Hip/thigh strengthening: Sit at the edge of your chair. Place your feet flat on the floor. Place each hand on the outside of each knee. Spread your knees apart while resisting the movements with your hands. Then change your hand placement to the inside of your knees. With your hands, resist the movement of pulling your knees together. Alternate hand placements and the in-and-out motions. Do this 10 to 20 times.

Marching in place: Lift your feet off the floor as high as you can. March as if in a parade. Do this 10 to 20 times.

Ankle flexibility: There are several ways to work your ankles. Leave you heels on the floor and tap your toes. Lift your foot off the floor. Point your toes away from you, then pull them up toward you. Practice writing your first name with your foot – just pretend you have a pencil between your big toe and 2nd toe)

Shoulder circles: Using large flowing movements, roll your shoulders up, forward, down and back. Do this 10 times. Reverse the direction.

Heel-shin slide: Place your heel on the lower part of your shin. Slide your heel up the front of your shin toward your knee. Then slide it back down again. Do this five to 10 times. Repeat with the other heel.

You can probably think up additional exercises. The idea is to keep moving – don’t just sit there.

For more information on this topic, contact Colorado State University Cooperative Extension in your county. Additional articles on Healthy Aging are available from Colorado State University Cooperative Extension by going online at and clicking on Info Online, Consumer/Family then scrolling to Healthy Aging.