Gran In Training: Senior Exercise Ideas

Gran In Training: Senior Exercise Ideas

Planning Active Activities & Exercises for Seniors

As an activities director for a senior center or residence, it is important to plan some activities that will get the people moving.

I have seen many senior programs that really put very little focus on activities that get their seniors in motion. I think sometimes this is a result of having a boring redundant exercise class that is poorly attended, and making assumptions from this that the seniors aren’t interested. In my experience, if you offer something fun, then they will be interested.

As people enter their golden era, arthritis sets in and osteoporosis appears, bodies slow down and balance is hindered. Yet despite these afflictions of old age, seniors can and must remain active, physically and mentally, because it is exercise that will combat these.

There are so many benefits to staying active as a senior, that you simply must include active activities and exercises on your monthly calendar.

different kind of exercise

Wii for Seniors

Virtual Reality = Real Exercise

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Over the last few years the Wii game has become a staple in senior activity planning. While some sports are now longer realistic for your seniors, the Wii version still is!

Set up a Wii Bowling league with team names and everything. Have team names and everything. Maybe you could even challenge another senior center.

Here is some great information about the use of the Wii as physical activity for seniors:

These are the Wii games that I have found most effective for seniors:

  • Wii Sports – Boxing, Bowling, Golf, Tennis, Baseball
  • Wii Play – Fishing, Table Tennis, Laser Hockey, Billiards, Charge!, Tank!, Pose Mii, Find Mii, Shooting Range
  • Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11- Golf
  • Wii Sports Resort – Swordplay, Wakeboarding, Frisbee, Archery, Basketball, Table Tennis, Golf, Bowling, Power Cruising, Canoeing, Cycling, Air Sports
  • Carnival Games – Alley Bowling, Lucky Cups, Nerves of Steel, Hoops, and Day at the Races

By the way, I have found that the men in the group also really like the Wii hunting games. Finding a men’s activity can be hard sometimes, so consider a virtual hunting trip:

  • Cabela’s Big Game Hunter 2010 with Gun Bundle
  • Remington Super Slam Hunting: North America


dancing for seniors

Let’s Dance!

Incorporating music into the schedule makes moving about more fun and less of a chore.

There are many types of programs you can do to encourage your people to dance.

Live music will always bring people out. If your budget does not allow you to book entertainment often, then you’ll have to try to find other means. Put an ad on craigslist that you are seeing volunteer musicians. Contact the music department at the local high school – a high schooler could practice their music for your seniors and gain experience in front of a crowd.

However, even if you don’t have live music, you can certainly put together some songs for a fun event. Pick a theme or a genre of music to make the event special (and different from the last event you held). Plan a Line Dance Dance, or a Square Dance Dance. Hold a Sock Hop, or a Woodstock (with ’60s Music).

You could even choose a theme and choose songs from any genre that fit. For example, a Blue Dance where you play songs like “Blue Moon”, “Blue Suede Shoes”, “Blue Bayou”, and “Blue Hawaii”.

Look to the calender for music ideas – Cinco de Mayo, Mardi Gras, Halloween – they all have music genres perfect for a party.

They’ll be swinging and swaying their way to fitness.

Chair Dancing

chair dancing

Dancing is for EVERYONE! Even people in a wheelchair, or those who cannot stand to dance, can still chair dance.

Zumba is a very popular dance exercise program. It can even be done from a chair! Check out this Zumba Gold: Chair Routine.

Also, check out this Latin Chair Salsa Workout! Wow!

Jodi Stolove’s Chair Dancing Through the Decades

What’s great about this DVD is the enthusiasm of Jodi and the fact that the music in this starts with the music of the twenties and progresses up the decades all the way to Hip Hop. That means that it will lover the decades most loved by the people in your group – all of them!

older person training in the park

Giant Games

If your group gravitates toward board games, then you can help make it physical by getting a giant version of a favorite game (or making one yourself).

  • Giant Chess – If chess is a favorite, then make it a social event (and a physical one) by getting a giant chess set. If you don’t have it in the budget to buy one of these sets, try making one yourself or enlisting some help from others. Using styrofoam, you can make your own big chess set.
  • Giant Chinese Checkers – An oversize Chinese checker board can be used by up to six players at once. With all of them around a big round table, you can see how much fun this will be!
  • This is another item you could make yourself using a sharpie on a canvas tablecloth by tracing the circle of the cups you will use as pieces.
  • Nearly any game that is a favorite in your senior center can be made into a giant version with a little effort. It can be an activity making the giant game!

older man keeping in shape


Take A Walk

Walking has proven to have extraordinary benefits for seniors.

  • Can You Walk Away From Dementia?
  • How to Improve Blood Circulation in the Elderly
  • Walking Can Improve Mood
  • Keep Your Memory Strong by Walking

Plan walks as a group. Making walking a social event will help to encourage people to participate.

Sometimes, plan a special walk like a nature walk where you point out specifics about the plants or birds along the way. Perhaps you could make it a trip to a local park.

Again, you can add music to make it a special event. Hold a Jazz walk or a Showtunes Walk (“Hello, Dolly”, anyone?).


Seniors Love Yoga!

Yoga is a wonderful way to increase balance, flexibility, mobility, and strength. It is a relaxing and enjoyable exercise that is sure to become a favorite for your seniors.

Group of mature people doing yoga



Yoga for Seniors

Watch some clips of chair yoga programs and you will quickly see how it would be a great addition to your weekly schedule.

badmington with a difference

Balloon Activities

Where there are balloons, there is fun. That is simply a fact.

A good old game of balloon volleyball will always cause laughs. Just line up chairs facing each other with a “net” between (it can be just a ribbon). Then play volleyball with a balloon (no three hits rule).

You can also play a game of Keep It Up, and time each person as they try to keep their balloon in the air the longest (or longer than their last time), or just have them all go at the same time, and see who is the last to drop it.

They won’t even notice how much they are exercising their arms and keeping their arms above their hearts.

exercise is youth

Water Aerobics

If your facility has a pool, then water aerobics is something you should do regularly. If you don’t have a pool, then consider putting it on your day trip calendar to visit a place that does.

Motion in the water is much easier since the water helps you, so this exercise is low-impact on your joints, however the impact it makes on your physical health is amazing!

If you are planning a water aerobics class, be sure to have enough help on hand to make sure it is done safely.

Hula Hoop

Hula Hoops

It’s always fun to bring out the hula hoops for a whirling good time. While many seniors may not be able to get that hoop a going at their waist, they can try on their arms (smaller hoops are handy for this, too). Be sure to have Teresa Brewers 1958 song, The Hula Hoop Song, on hand to get them going.

Classic Hula Hoop Set of 3

Fitness Tip: Bending over to pick up the fallen hula hoop is also good exercise!

Active Seniors

Chair Exercises – Sit & Be Fit

There are several videos available with chair exercises. I don’t recommend using videos exclusively, but rather starting with them until you, as the leader, have learned the exercises and can lead the class. You can use a video on days the leader is not available, and add new videos from time to time (with new moves) to keep things interesting.

The most important things to remember is to keep things fresh and not to do the same thing every day. You have to keep them interested. Use music, or talk (or sing) throughout the exercises. Silence = Boring.

I especially like the Sit and Be Fit DVDs, especially the ones like the one below which show both a standing and a sitting exercise routine. This video would serve the needs of all levels of physical ability in your group.

Chair Aerobics for Everyone: Boxing

Chair Aerobics for Everyone – Chair Boxing

Chair boxing is an activity that will appeal to the men in your group – men who often skip exercises!

However, even the ladies will have a blast punching away during this routine. It breaks down the moves clearly and concisely.

I love this video because it is something completely different. It’s probably been a while since any of the group has boxed!



Bowling is a great game to get people moving, socializing, and having fun.

You can plan a daytrip to a local bowling alley, or you could set up your own bowling lane withing your building. A blocked off hallway will do the trick.

Again, a wheelchair does not keep someone from participating – ask the American Wheelchair Bowling Association! There are also Wheelchair Bowling Ramps available to allow everyone to play.


Golf & Mini Golf

Golf is a favorite pastime of millions. A trip to a local golf course or driving range will surely be a popular one, and it’s great for getting the men involved.

You can also do mini golf on your own property, by either making a course in your yard, or by getting an indoor putting green.

tai chong

Tai Chi & Qi Gong

Did you know that in China, 20-30% of all seniors participate in Tai Chi or Qi Gong on a regular basis?

Tai Chi and Qi Gong are wonderful for seniors as they are low impact and easy to learn. The two are different activities, but they share three components – body focus, breath focus and mind focus. Tai Chi includes more motion than Qi Gong, which focuses more on meditation.

Many activity directors shy away from leading a class in Tai Chi or Qi Gong because they are nervous about their own knowledge of these martial arts. The best way to overcome this, is to invite someone to come teach the class. A local Chinese community center might be a place to start for this.

Videos like these are also invaluable. Be honest with your knowledge of the topic and learn with your group. A little vulnerability will help you bond with your group, anyway!

 Couple Exercising In Park

More Fun Active Games & Activities

  1. Simon Says – This classic game can be as active or low-impact as you need it to be. It is also a good activity that includes people with low vision, or who are blind (just be specific and don’t say “Simon says, do this”).
  2. Horseback Riding – Obviously not feasible for all people or for all facilities, but riding a horse can get the body in motion. The movement of the hips alone is great.
  3. Ball toss – Any type of ball or bean bag toss can give the arms some movement. Knock things down with a ball or bean bag or try to aim through a target.
  4. Bocce Ball – Every senior center has a few guys that just love Bocce Ball, and play all the time. Others join them often. If they aren’t playing bocce ball, then they don’t have a bocce ball set! Learn how to play bocce ball.
  5. Shuffleboard – Shuffleboard is the game people always picture seniors playing, and that’s for a good reason. Seniors love it.
  6. Horse Shoes – Horseshoes is a great game that is well liked by seniors. You can now get indoor versions that you can use in a hallway during the cold months.
  7. Parachute – Using a parachute is something that depends on your group. Some groups shun the idea of it as too childish, but others don’t care and go for it anyway. Only you know your group enough to make that decision.
  8. Get An Arm Peddler – Some people simply prefer to exercise on their own. By having an arm peddler like this available, your seniors can work to strengthen their upper body at their own speed whenever it’s convenient for them.

Senior Fitness Programs

Senior Fitness Programs

For detailed information about senior fitness programs visit one of this great sites:

  • SilverSneakers
    SilverSneakers is a program offered by many Medicare plans that helps them get access to local gyms. Educate yourself on the program, and then educate your seniors on it.
  • Arthritis Foundation Fitness Programs
    (Formerly known as PACE) The Arthritis Foundation has a wealth of information in their fitness programs.
  • The President’s Challenge
    As a group, and individually, work toward a Presidential Active Lifestyle Award (PALA) or becoming a Presidential Champion.

Seasonal Activities

Seasonal Active Activities

Holidays and the different seasons of the year give opportunity to incorporate various seasonal activities that will get their seniors up and moving about.

For example, for Thanksgiving, hold a Turkey Trot by inviting your seniors on a walk around the building or the grounds almost like a parade, while playing Little Eva’s “Let’s Do The Turkey Trot”. A leader dressed in a silly turkey costume will help draw attention to your event.

In the winter, you can hold a paper ball snowball fight (or a cotton ball snowball fight). Ten minutes of throwing things at each other really gets your arms going. Gran In Training: Senior Exercise Ideas hopes’ you’ve received some great information for better fitness.