It's normal to lose some muscle mass as we age. In fact, the average person can expect to lose 3 to 8 percent of muscle mass per decade after the age of 30!
Fortunately, there are things you can do to slow muscle loss and maintain as much strength as possible throughout your life. This includes lifestyle interventions like eating enough protein and exercising regularly. These interventions are especially important for seniors who are bedbound or sedentary due to prolonged hospitalizations or chronic illnesses like stroke.
If your loved one is bedbound due to an injury or illness, it's important to help them stay moving as much as possible in order to minimize their risk of deconditioning. One simple way to do this is by helping them perform passive and active bed exercises. Keep reading to learn why bed exercises are important for bedbound or inactive seniors and which bed exercises are the best ones to perform on a daily basis.
Please click the button below to download a free PDF of the exercises in this article:
Keep in Mind:
Before starting any new exercise(s), we strongly recommend you follow the advice of the National Institute on Aging and consult your doctor.
Benefits of Bed Exercises for Elderly
Did you know? Being bedridden increases the risk of a complex process known as physical deconditioning. Physical deconditioning is linked to poorer health outcomes and increased healthcare costs.
The effects of deconditioning can happen more quickly than you might think. Studies show that being completely bedridden can lead to a loss of muscle strength as high as 1 to 3 percent per day! Losing strength quickly can rob an older person of their independence and increase the demands on their caregivers, too. In addition, seniors who are bedbound are also at an increased risk of other complications like pressure sores, poor circulation, reduced bone density, pain, decreased joint range of motion, incontinence, and even depression.
Bed exercises might not be intense enough on their own to completely prevent deconditioning caused by being bedbound, but they can help. Bed exercises provide a simple way for inactive seniors to take action and do something beneficial for their physical and mental well-being, even if they are bedridden. Bed exercises are also generally well-tolerated, simple to perform, and require little to no equipment.
In addition, helping your elderly loved one perform their bed exercises can be a great way to bond and offer them the healing power of touch.
Best Bed Exercises for Bedbound Seniors
The following bed exercises are some of the best options for seniors who are bedridden. If your loved one is currently being medically supervised, talk to their provider before starting any of these exercises to ensure you select the right exercises for their needs. A physical therapist can also help create an individualized home exercise program for your loved one and show you how to help.
Here are a few additional pointers to keep in mind before getting started:
1. Hamstring Sets
Hamstring Sets: lay on your back with one leg bent and your foot on the mattress. Without moving your leg, press your heel into the mattress. Hold for 5 seconds, then relax.
2. Quad Sets
Quad Sets: lay on your back with your legs straight. Without moving your leg, tighten the muscle on the top of your thigh, pressing the back of your knee into the mattress. Hold for 5 seconds, then relax.
3. Hip Abduction
Hip Abduction: lay on your back with your legs straight. Move one leg out to the side as far as you can without bending at your side. Keep your toes and knees pointing at the ceiling.
4. Straight Leg Raise
Straight Leg Raise: lay on your back with one leg bent and your foot on the mattress. Tighten your stomach muscles and lift your other leg about 6 to 8 inches above the mattress, then lower.
Exercises to Help Seniors Turn Over in Bed
Bridge: lay on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the mattress. Tighten your stomach muscles, squeeze your buttocks, and lift your hips into the air until they are straight, or as far as you can go. Then lower.
2. Lower Trunk Rotation
Lower Trunk Rotation: lay on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the mattress. Keep your back flat, then slowly drop your knees to the right toward the mattress as far as you can go. Then, bring your knees up and over to the left.
1. Knee to Chest
Knee to Chest: lay on your back with your legs straight. Use your hands to slowly pull one knee toward your chest until you feel a gentle stretch. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds, then repeat on the other side.
2. Ankle Pumps
Ankle Pumps: lay on your back with your legs straight. Point your toes toward your head as far as they will go. Then point your toes away from you as far as they will go. A helper can also push the toes toward the head and hold for 20 to 30 seconds.
3. Overhead Shoulder Flexion
Overhead Shoulder Flexion: lay on your back with your legs straight. Clasp your hands together or hold a light object (such as a can or a towel) with both hands. Tighten your stomach muscles and lift your hands up and over your head as far as you can go. Try to keep your elbows straight and your back flat on the mattress. Then, slowly lower your hands back down.
4. Wrist Stretch
Wrist stretch: lay on your back. With one hand, gently press your opposite hand down, moving your palm closer to your forearm. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds. To stretch your wrist in the opposite direction, gently press your opposite hand up, bringing the back of your hand closer to your forearm. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds, then relax.
5. Neck Stretch
Neck stretch: lay on your back. Slowly bring your right ear toward your right shoulder until you feel a stretch on the left side of your neck. For an extra stretch, you can gently hold the left side of your head with your right hand. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds, then relax. Repeat on the other side.
Core Strengthening Exercises
1. Posterior Pelvic Tilt
Posterior Pelvic Tilt: lay on your back with your legs bent and your feet flat on the mattress. Slowly press the small of your lower back into the mattress. Hold for 5 seconds, then relax.
2. Supine March
Supine March: lay on your back with your legs bent and your feet flat on the mattress. Tighten your stomach muscles and lift one knee toward your chest. Slowly lower your foot back down to the mattress, then repeat on the other side.
3. Glute Set
Glute Set: lay on your back with your legs straight. Tighten your buttocks muscles. Hold for 5 seconds, then relax.
Resistance Band Exercises
1. Band Pull Aparts
Band Pull Aparts: lay on your back with your legs straight. Hold a resistance band with your hands about shoulder-width apart, palms facing down. Tighten your stomach muscles and gently squeeze your shoulder blades together as you pull your hands apart.
2. Diagonal Shoulder Flexion
Diagonal Shoulder Flexion: lay down your back and hold one end of a resistance band in each hand. Put your hands at your right hip. Lift your left hand up and over your left shoulder, moving in a diagonal line. Try to keep your elbow straight. Then lower. To switch sides, simply place your hands over your left hip and lift with your right hand.
Clamshells: lay on your side with your knees bent. Place a resistance band around your lower thighs. Tighten your stomach muscles and bring your knees apart. Keep your feet together and your hips stacked on top of each other. You can also do this on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the mattress.
Even active older adults will experience some muscle loss as a natural part of aging. But seniors who are bedbound due to an illness or injury have an even greater risk of decreased strength, as well as other consequences of deconditioning.
Bed exercises are simple and effective movements that can reduce the risk of deconditioning and help a bedbound senior avoid the physical and emotional consequences of inactivity. These exercises can be performed alone or with the help of a caregiver. If any of the exercises hurt, stop and speak to a doctor or a physical therapist who can help modify the movement or find alternative solutions.
The best thing to remember is that consistency is key. The more regularly a bedbound senior performs these exercises, the more benefits they'll get out of them. So, select at least a few that can be done every day. Over time, these exercises can help a person feel and move better. Stick with them and make them a part of your daily routine!