Gym Closed? Stay Fit (and Sane) with This Home Workout for Older Adults

Reap the mind and body benefits of exercise without leaving your living room

Happy senior woman on a yoga mat

If you can’t go to the gym, bring the gym to you. Getting off the couch is one of the most beneficial things you can do during the COVID-19 pandemic—both for your physical fitness and your mental health. And once you stand up, you won’t need to go very far—if you have floor space and your body weight, you have all the workout equipment you need. You need many hands to count the health benefits of regular exercise for older adults: better weight control, improved blood pressure, less pain, short-term memory gains, more restful sleep, fall prevention, and on and on.

But exercise can also “be very helpful for mild-to-moderate depression, mild-to-moderate anxiety, and self-esteem,” says Thomas Plante, Ph.D., a psychology professor at Santa Clara University and an adjunct professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford Medical School. “It can be uplifting in both mood and energy.”

Even if you don’t have a diagnosed mental health condition—but are just genuinely overwhelmed during the COVID-19 outbreak—a new study from researchers at Columbia University Medical Center shows that getting your heart rate up four times a week can raise your spirits and put a damper on hostility.

You don’t need to convince Holly Roser of any of this. The certified personal trainer and owner of Holly Roser Fitness says that while we’re all home doing our part to flatten the curve, we should be viewing exercise as a “time to escape and focus on ourselves.”

Ready to recharge? Clear some space in your living room and try Roser’s low-impact, total-body workout. All you need is a sturdy chair, a mat or towel, and two full water bottles.

For the most benefit, do the workout four times a week. You can do the nine exercises below in order—performing all of the sets and repetitions as described. Or, turn it into a circuit workout by doing one set of exercises three through nine and then repeating the series before moving on to the cooldown.

Safety reminder: If you’re new to exercising, or getting back into it after a long break, remember to get the green light from your doctor first.

Exercise #1: Ankle Circles
Warmup move: Do three sets of 16 to 24 circles, each foot
How to do it: Sit tall in a chair with your feet flat on the floor. Extend one leg straight out in front of you with your toes pointed up at the ceiling. (Rest your calf on a sturdy chair or couch if you need more support.) Slowly circle your toes clockwise, completing 8 to 12 circles. Next, slowly circle your toes counterclockwise 8 to 12 times. Switch feet and repeat the sequence with the other foot. That’s one set. Repeat two more times with each foot.

 

Exercise #2: Finger Spread
Warmup move: Do 10 reps, each hand
How to do it: Start with a relaxed hand. Now, spread your fingers out as wide apart as possible. Tense the muscles in your hand, fingers, and wrist. Hold this stretch for 2 to 3 seconds. Relax your hand. That’s one rep.

Exercise #3: Wall Slides
Strength move for hamstrings, quads, and glutes. Do one to three sets of 10 reps, resting 30 to 60 seconds between sets
How to do it: Stand with your back against a wall, feet hip-width apart. Position your arms at your sides with your palms touching the wall, or in a goal-post position. Keeping your back flat, slowly slide your hips and torso down the wall until you’re in a comfortable squat position. Your ankles should be under your knees. Hold for 10 to 30 seconds, rest, and then repeat. 

Exercise #4: Calf and Heel Raises
Strength move for calves and ankles. Do one to three sets of 10 reps, resting 30 to 60 seconds between sets
How to do it: Stand behind a sturdy chair with your feet hip-width apart. (Lightly hold the chair for support, if needed.) Raise up on the balls of your feet, as high as you can go. Hold for a count of two to 10, then slowly lower down. Next, lift your toes off the ground, so that your weight is on your heels. Hold for a count of two to 10, then slowly lower down. That’s one rep. Continue the pattern. 

Variations: To make this move easier, try it while seated. Or, turn this into a balance exercise by doing the move one leg at a time.

Exercise #5: Single Leg Stand
Balance exercise and strength move for abs, hamstrings, and quads. Do one to three sets of 10 to 15 reps on each leg, resting 30 to 60 seconds between sets
How to do it: Stand behind a sturdy chair and take a step back so you’re about an arm’s length away. (Lightly hold the chair for support, if necessary.) Squeeze your core, press your weight into your right foot, and slowly lift your left foot off the floor, about 3 to 6 inches. Hold for a count of two to 10. Lower your foot to the floor and repeat 10 to 15 times, lifting the same foot. Switch legs and repeat with the opposite foot.

Exercise #6: Military Press
Strength move for shoulders, biceps, triceps, and grip. Do one to three sets of 10 reps, resting 30 to 60 seconds between sets
How to do it: You can do this move while seated or standing. Holding a water bottle in each hand, lift your elbows up to shoulder height and the press them outward slightly. This is your starting position. Slowly press the bottles above your head and straighten your arms. It should look like you’re making a football touchdown sign. With control, bring your hands back down to shoulder height. That’s one rep.
 

Variations: To make this move easier, skip the bottle weights and press your palms toward the ceiling or straight out in front of you. You can also do the move one arm at a time, alternating left and right. 

Exercise #7: March with Shoulder Blade Pinch
Balance exercise and cardio move to get your heart-rate up. Perform for 30 to 60 seconds
How to do it: Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart and arms at your sides, with elbows bent. Begin marching in place. With each knee lift, pinch your shoulder blades together by squeezing them down and back. Release the pinch as your foot returns to the floor.

Exercise #8: Chair Squat
Strength move for your lower body and core. Do one to three sets of 10 reps, resting 30 to 60 seconds between sets
How to do it:  Stand tall with your back facing a sturdy chair and your feet hip- to shoulder-width apart. Hold your arms straight out in front of you and squeeze your core. This is your starting position. From here, push your hips back, and bend your knees to slowly lower your body into a squat, hovering just above the seat. Tap your backside on the chair, and press through your heels to return to your starting position. That’s one rep.

Exercise #9: Bird Dog
Strength move for your core, arms, and legs. Do one to three sets of 10 reps, resting 30 to 60 seconds between sets
How to do it: Start on all fours with your hands below shoulders and knees below hips. Squeeze your core, keep your spine neutral, and look at the floor. Lift and extend your right arm and left leg until they are in line with the rest of our body. Hold for a count of three to 10, then return to start and repeat on the opposite side with left arm and right leg extended. That’s one rep.

Exercise #10: Cooldown
Repeat Exercise #1: Ankle Circles and Exercise #2: Finger Spread.

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