SeniorsMobility is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more

Functional Exercises for Seniors

Functional Exercises for Seniors: 12 Best Functional Fitness Exercises for Seniors

By Maurice

Functional Exercises for Seniors

You already know that exercise is essential for any age, but especially in your senior years.

But what you might not know is that specific exercises benefit you in your everyday activities, like getting out of bed. What you used to do might not be so easy to enjoy, even the little things you take for granted. Below, you'll learn about a particular type of exercise made especially to combat the mobility difficulties related to aging.

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.  

What are Functional Exercises for Seniors?

More than just exercising for your health, functional exercises deal with any necessary movement to safely perform your daily activities. These movements are tied to your level of flexibility, balance, muscular strength, and cardiovascular endurance and allow you to stay independent longer. If continuing to do things like getting out of bed, getting up and down from the toilet, or lifting groceries out of your trunk, functional exercises become important as you age.

To get the ultimate benefits from functional exercises, The National Institutes of Health suggests functional exercises that support four main fitness goals: balance, flexibility, strength, and endurance.

What are the Benefits of Functional Exercises for Seniors?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 61% of adults over the age of 65 are limited in their ability to perform basic actions. Things like being able to bend down to grab something off the floor or pull a gallon of milk out of the fridge can become more difficult as you age. And the less you move your body, the more difficult these everyday tasks will become. Issues such as joint dysfunction, degenerative joint disease, and other injuries that can show up from lack of use can begin to present themselves.

Regular exercises you do at the gym often involve specific muscle groups, so it's important to include exercises that will target several at a time. That's how functional exercises work. Functional exercises are best done daily and help improve your strength and ability to engage in daily activities.

Other benefits of functional exercises include:

  • Improved endurance
  • Added muscle strength
  • Greater muscle memory
  • Improved flexibility
  • Better coordination
  • Lower impact to the body
  • Increased independence
  • Targets several muscle groups at a time
  • Reduced risk of falls

Best Functional Exercises for Seniors

You likely already do many things that are considered functional exercises, but knowing a few made especially for this purpose is also helpful.

Functional core exercises for seniors

Since your core is the center of your body and involved in pretty much all movements your body engages in, these exercises are critical for maintaining your mobility as you age. Your core is more than just your stomach. It includes all the muscles that surround your rib cage, spine, hips, and butt. When a given step says to 'engage your core,' it means imaging you're about to receive a punch in the gut, then squeezing your glutes and pushing down through your feet to gain stability.

1. Dead Bug

This exercise helps strengthen your core, improve your posture, and ease pain in your lower back.

  1. 1
    Lie on your back, extending your hands above you toward the ceiling.
  2. 2
    Lift your feet in the air and bend your knees 90 degrees.
  3. 3
    Relax your ribcage and lift your pelvis so that your back is flat on the floor.
  4. 4
    As you exhale, straighten your knee, flex your quads, and drop your hips until your left leg falls to 3" away from the floor.
  5. 5
    As your leg drops, your right arm should extend over your head. Make sure your core stays engaged and hold for one count.
  6. 6
    Inhale, keep your core engaged, and return your arm and leg to their starting position.
  7. 7
    Repeat steps 4 through 6 with your alternate arm and leg. Do 10-20 reps.

2. Tummy Twists

  1. 1
    Start by sitting upright in a chair with your feet flat on the floor.
  2. 2
    Hold a ball with your hands close to your stomach and elbows slightly bent.
  3. 3
    Slowly rotate your torso to the left while keeping your body stable.
  4. 4
    Return to the center and then repeat to the right.
  5. 5
    Do this until you finish 10 twists per side.

Functional strength exercises for seniors

Strength building exercises help you build endurance to do the tasks that require strength in your arms and legs.

3. Stair Climbs

If you have stairs, this exercise is for you. It also helps with safely navigating curbs.

  1. 1
    Stand in front of a stair or elevated platform. Use a rail for safety if needed.
  2. 2
    Place your right foot on the step.
  3. 3
    Using your leg muscles, make a controlled step-up motion without relying on the railing or hopping.
  4. 4
    Step back down to the starting point.
  5. 5
    Repeat with your left leg. Alternate legs for 10 reps.

4. Chair Squats

Squats are one of the best exercises for maintaining the strength to do everyday activities, like getting up from the couch, chair, or toilet. In the video below, you'll see additional ways to modify the chair squat as well.

  1. 1
    Stand in front of a sturdy chair with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. 2
    Slowly lower yourself into the chair by bending your knees and leaning forward at the waist. If you need your arms out for balance, that is okay.
  3. 3
    Return to standing by leaning forward, squeezing the glutes, and pushing through the heels.
  4. 4
    Repeat for a total of 10 squats.

5. Wall Push-Ups

Wall push-ups are easier on your shoulders but work just as well for building strength. They help with tasks such as opening a heavy door or recovering from a fall.

  1. 1
    Stand 2-3 feet in front of a wall.
  2. 2
    With your arms shoulder-width apart, reach out and place your hands chest-high on the wall.
  3. 3
    Slowly bend your elbows and lower your chest to the wall.
  4. 4
    Use your arms to push yourself back to a starting position.
  5. 5
    Repeat to complete 10 reps.

6. Dumbbell Row

Practicing rows strengthens your upper body to help with daily tasks such as picking up a laundry basket or starting a lawnmower.

  1. 1
    Hold a light to medium weight object in one hand.
  2. 2
    Lean forward onto a table or countertop with your opposite arm for support.
  3. 3
    As you squeeze your shoulder blade, pull the dumbbell back until your elbow is parallel with your body.
  4. 4
    Slowly lower the dumbbell back down. Repeat 9 times and then switch arms.

Full-body functional exercises for seniors

Because you rarely move in a straight line during your daily activities, you need to participate in full-body exercises to ensure activities like raking, sweeping, and vacuuming don't become even bigger chores.

7. Farmer's Carry

This exercise can help with just about any daily task because it works your core, arms, and legs and helps with posture and endurance.

  1. 1
    Stand up straight and hold a light object (dumbbell, soup can) in each hand.
  2. 2
    Keeping your shoulders relaxed, tighten your abdominal muscles.
  3. 3
    Paying attention to your posture and balance, begin slowly walking forward.
  4. 4
    Repeat five times in a 30-second walk, 5-second rest pattern.

8. Multi-Directional Lunge

There are many ways to do a multi-directional lunge, but this 3-directional lunge is best for seniors.

  1. 1
    Stand on a firm surface with feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. 2
    Step forward with your right foot as you slowly bend both knees and lower your body weight.
  3. 3
    Return to start.
  4. 4
    Step backward with your right foot as you slowly bend both knees and lower your body weight.
  5. 5
    Return to start.
  6. 6
    Now step to the side with your right foot and do a semi-squat with both legs.
  7. 7
    Return to start. This is a full lunge. Repeat a few times with the first leg and then switch to the left leg.

9. Wobbly Bridge

To get a full-body exercise that also helps the hips, try this.

  1. 1
    Sit on the floor with your hands flat on the ground below your shoulders, knees bent, and feet flat on the ground.
  2. 2
    With your arms straight, use your legs to push your hips up to the ceiling until you make a flat table with your torso.
  3. 3
    Lift your right arm up toward the ceiling as you rotate your upper body so that your left arm is supporting it and your hips stay lifted.
  4. 4
    Go back to your starting position except don't let your hips touch the floor all the way.
  5. 5
    Repeat with your left arm. Then, do again for 10 reps.

For a regular bridge that does not involve twisting, watch this video:

Functional mobility exercises for seniors

When you practice tasks that you would do daily, you're doing a mobility exercise.

10. Hop Step

When you suddenly need to stop or avoid something, you're hopping.

  1. 1
    Stand on your left leg and hold for 3-5 seconds until steady.
  2. 2
    Hop to your right leg.
  3. 3
    Get your balance for 3-5 seconds.
  4. 4
    Repeat by starting from the other foot; this is one rep.
  5. 5
    Do this for 10 reps.

11. Single-Leg Stand

Many tasks require balancing on one leg, such as getting in and out of your car or stepping out of the shower.

  1. 1
    Stand with both feet together.
  2. 2
    Tighten your core muscles.
  3. 3
    Lift one foot off the ground, as much as 6" up, for at least 30 seconds. Imagine a string is holding you up by the head through the spine.
  4. 4
    Lower your foot and repeat with the other leg. Do this 10 times.

12. Heel to Toe

Doctors often use this task to judge your balance.

  1. 1
    Stand with your feet together.
  2. 2
    Tighten your core muscles.
  3. 3
    Step one foot in front of the other, where your heel is directly in front of the other foot's toes like you're walking on a tightrope.
  4. 4
    Hold the position for 30 seconds.
  5. 5
    Repeat with the other foot.

A Note About Functional Exercises for Frail Seniors

If you are struggling to complete any of the exercises above due to existing mobility issues but still want to improve upon the independence you do have, then you can still benefit from functional exercises. In your case, you will be training your body back to independence by utilizing functional exercises in a modified way.

Jennifer Green, MS shared with the National Center on Health, Physical Activity, and Disability (NCHPAD) that seniors should choose exercises that work the large muscle groups and provide functional benefits. These include walking, swimming, and chair exercises. She further shares that any strength exercises should be modified to remove the use of weights.

She lists specific activities that are geared toward neuromuscular activities that increase gait, coordination, flexibility, and balance, prevents falls, and increases hand-eye coordination and reaction times. These include:

  • Stair climbing with a rail for support for building leg strength
  • One-foot stand with a chair for support for increasing balance
  • Chair sit-to-stand activities for independent toileting and movement
  • Fall and recovery techniques for getting up and down off the floor

Start Today to Ensure Your Independence As You Age

As you can see, these functional exercises are perfect for building up your strength, endurance, flexibility, and balance - all essential components of ensuring you are your best, most independent self as you age. As always, be sure to consult your doctor before trying any new exercises, and if something is too hard, be sure to modify it to fit your needs. Here's to your independence and mobility!


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *