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Exercising While Sitting Down

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Exercising While Sitting Down

Overview

Being active is one of the best things you can do to get fit and stay healthy. It helps you feel stronger and have more energy. Being active may also help you feel better, sleep better, and focus.

Here are three light exercise programs that can help you start being more active. All of the exercises can be done while sitting down. Each program includes exercises to stretch your muscles, build your strength, and get your heart beating faster.

  • Program A: Seated exercises. You don't need any equipment to do these exercises.
  • Program B: Seated exercises with a ball. You'll need a large ball, such as an exercise ball or child's beach ball. Or use a throw pillow.
  • Program C: Seated exercises with exercise bands and light weights (like cans of food). You'll need exercise bands and cans of food or other light hand weights.

Follow these tips when doing these programs.

  • Sit in a firm chair when you do the exercises.
  • Remember to breathe as you do them, and rest a moment between each exercise.
  • Start slowly. Do a little at first, and then do more as you get stronger.
  • Stop if you have pain. You may have some minor soreness or stiffness at first, but pain is a warning sign to stop.

If you have health problems, talk with your doctor before you start an exercise plan. Your doctor can help you know what activities are safe, what to avoid, and what kinds of choices you have.

Program A: Seated exercises

Program A: Chin-to-chest stretch (straight)

Straight chin-to-chest stretch.
slide 1 of 9
slide 1 of 9, Program A: Chin-to-chest stretch (straight),
  1. Sit in a firm chair.
  2. Bend your head forward.
  3. Hold for at least 15 seconds.
  4. Repeat 2 to 4 times.

Program A: Chin-to-chest stretch (diagonal)

Diagonal chin-to-chest stretch.
slide 2 of 9
slide 2 of 9, Program A: Chin-to-chest stretch (diagonal),
  1. Turn your head slightly toward the direction you will be stretching, and tilt your head diagonally toward your chest and hold for at least 15 seconds.
  2. If you would like a little added stretch, use your hand to gently and steadily pull your head forward on the diagonal.
  3. Repeat 2 to 4 times toward each side.

Program A: Overhead reach and side bends

Overhead reach and side bends.
slide 3 of 9
slide 3 of 9, Program A: Overhead reach and side bends,
  1. Raise both arms straight above your head.
  2. Slowly drop your right arm and lean to the right. Feel the stretch in your left side.
  3. Hold for at least 15 seconds.
  4. Go back to your original position with your arms over your head.
  5. Then drop your left arm and lean to the left.
  6. Repeat 2 to 4 times toward each side.

Program A: Wrist circles

Wrist circles.
slide 4 of 9
slide 4 of 9, Program A: Wrist circles,
  1. Extend your arms out in front of you.
  2. Keeping your arms straight, rotate your wrists in small circles.
  3. Do 10 circles to the right, and then 10 to the left.

Program A: Elbow-to-knee exercise

Elbow-to-knee exercise.
slide 5 of 9
slide 5 of 9, Program A: Elbow-to-knee exercise,

This exercise helps get your heart beating faster.

  1. Sit tall with your arms extended above your head.
  2. Raise your right knee while you lower your left elbow toward your right knee. They don't have to touch.
  3. Now go back to your original position.
  4. Raise your left knee toward your right elbow. Then go back to your original position.
  5. Keep going back and forth in a smooth rhythm for 1 minute. Work up to doing the exercise for 5 minutes or longer.

Program A: Knee extension

Knee extension.
slide 6 of 9
slide 6 of 9, Program A: Knee extension,
  1. Straighten and lift one leg, and hold while you slowly count to 5. Be sure you don't lock your knee.
  2. Slowly lower your leg back down.
  3. Repeat 8 to 12 times.
  4. Do the same exercise with the other leg.

Note: If this exercise becomes easy, you can add a light weight around your ankle or tie an elastic resistance band to the chair leg and your ankle.

Program A: Chair push-ups

Chair push-ups.
slide 7 of 9
slide 7 of 9, Program A: Chair push-ups,

Note: You need to be in a chair with armrests to do this exercise.

  1. Sit tall with your feet flat on the floor and spread comfortably apart.
  2. Grip the armrests, and take a deep breath in.
  3. Now breathe out as you use your arms to push your body off the chair. (You're not pushing up with your legs.) Straighten your arms as much as you can.
  4. Hold for about 1 second, and then lower yourself back to the chair.
  5. Repeat 8 to 12 times.

Program A: Shoulder blade squeeze

Shoulder blade squeeze.
slide 8 of 9
slide 8 of 9, Program A: Shoulder blade squeeze,
  1. Lift your arms near the level of your shoulders with your elbows pointed straight out.
  2. Bring your elbows back while you squeeze your shoulder blades together. Don't lift or shrug your shoulders as you are squeezing.
  3. Hold 6 seconds.
  4. Repeat 8 to 12 times.

Program A: Shoulder rolls

Shoulder rolls.
slide 9 of 9
slide 9 of 9, Program A: Shoulder rolls,
  1. Sit tall with your feet flat on the floor and spread comfortably apart.
  2. Roll your shoulders up, then back, then down, then forward in a smooth, circular motion.
  3. Now roll your shoulders in the other direction.
  4. Repeat 2 to 4 times.

Program B: Seated exercises with a ball

Program B: Neck rotation

Neck rotation.
slide 1 of 8
slide 1 of 8, Program B: Neck rotation,
  1. Keeping your chin level, turn your head to the left, and hold for at least 15 seconds.
  2. Turn your head to the right and hold for at least 15 seconds.
  3. Repeat 2 to 4 times to each side.

Program B: Elbow extension with a ball

Elbow extension with a ball.
slide 2 of 8
slide 2 of 8, Program B: Elbow extension with a ball,
  1. Sit tall in your chair, and raise the ball straight above your head.
  2. Keeping your arms up, bend your elbows as you lower the ball behind your head.
  3. Then slowly raise the ball until it's back to its original position above your head.
  4. Repeat 8 to 12 times.

Program B: Forward reach with a ball

Picture of forward reach with a ball.
slide 3 of 8
slide 3 of 8, Program B: Forward reach with a ball,
  1. Sit tall in your chair, and hold the ball out in front of you.
  2. Slowly stretch your arms forward to move the ball away from you, like you're handing the ball to someone. You will feel the stretch across your upper back.
  3. Go back to the starting position.
  4. Repeat 2 to 4 times.

Program B: Arm circles with a ball

Arm circles with a ball.
slide 4 of 8
slide 4 of 8, Program B: Arm circles with a ball,

This exercise helps get your heart beating faster.

  1. Sit tall in your chair, and raise the ball straight above your head.
  2. Keeping your arms straight, slowly make a wide circle, bringing the ball down to your left, in front of you, over to the right, and then above your head again.
  3. Slowly make another circle going in the other direction.
  4. Keep making circles in a smooth rhythm for 1 minute. Work up to doing this exercise for 5 minutes or longer.

Program B: Body twists with a ball

Body twists with a ball.
slide 5 of 8
slide 5 of 8, Program B: Body twists with a ball,
  1. Sit tall, and keep your feet comfortably apart.
  2. Hold the ball in front of you.
  3. Keeping your feet and legs still, slowly turn your shoulders to the left. Go as far as you feel comfortable. You'll feel the stretch in your back and shoulder.
  4. Turn back to your center, and slowly turn your shoulders to the right.
  5. Repeat 2 to 4 times in each direction.

Program B: Knee squeezes with a ball

Knee squeezes with a ball.
slide 6 of 8
slide 6 of 8, Program B: Knee squeezes with a ball,
  1. Sit tall, and keep your feet comfortably apart.
  2. Place the ball between your knees.
  3. Using your knees, squeeze the ball for 6 seconds, and then slowly release (but don't let the ball fall).
  4. Repeat 8 to 12 times.

Program B: Chest squeeze with a ball

Chest squeeze with a ball.
slide 7 of 8
slide 7 of 8, Program B: Chest squeeze with a ball,
  1. Hold the ball in front of your chest with your elbows pointed straight out.
  2. Squeeze the ball between your hands. Keep squeezing for about 6 seconds, and then relax.
  3. Repeat 8 to 12 times.

Program B: "Alphabet" exercise

Alphabet range-of-motion exercise for an ankle sprain.
slide 8 of 8
slide 8 of 8, Program B: "Alphabet" exercise,
  1. Trace the alphabet in the air with your right foot. This helps your ankle move in all directions.
  2. Then trace the alphabet with your other foot.

Program C: Seated exercises with elastic bands and soup cans

Program C: Chin tuck (or dorsal glide)

Seated exercise: Chin tuck (or dorsal glide).
slide 1 of 8
slide 1 of 8, Program C: Chin tuck (or dorsal glide),
  1. Sit tall, looking straight ahead.
  2. Slowly tuck your chin as you glide your head backward over your body. Hold for about 6 seconds; then relax for 10 seconds.
  3. Repeat 8 to 12 times.

Note: If you feel uncomfortable, don't glide so far back.

Program C: Chest stretch

Seated exercise: Chest stretch.
slide 2 of 8
slide 2 of 8, Program C: Chest stretch,
  1. Sit tall with your feet comfortably apart.
  2. Look straight ahead, and don't allow your head to tilt back. As you take a deep breath, open your arms out to the sides and roll your arms back. Your palms will turn outward, and you will feel a stretch across your chest.
  3. Breathe normally as you hold this stretch for at least 15 seconds.
  4. Lower your arms to your sides and let your palms turn back toward your legs.
  5. Repeat 2 to 4 times.

Program C: Marching in place

Seated exercise: Marching in place.
slide 3 of 8
slide 3 of 8, Program C: Marching in place,

This exercise helps get your heart beating faster.

  1. Sit with your feet slightly apart, and keep your hands at the edge of your chair or on the armrests.
  2. March in place, lifting your knees high toward the ceiling. Remember to breathe normally.
  3. Keep marching in a smooth rhythm for 1 minute. Work up to marching 5 minutes or longer.

Program C: Rowing with elastic bands

Seated exercise: Rowing with elastic bands.
slide 4 of 8
slide 4 of 8, Program C: Rowing with elastic bands,
  1. Sit tall with your feet comfortably apart.
  2. Put the elastic band under your feet, with one end of the band in each hand.
  3. Keep your arms out in front of you and your shoulders.
  4. Now pull the band back toward your hips.
  5. Slowly return to the starting position.
  6. Repeat 8 to 12 times.

Program C: Knee presses with elastic bands

Seated exercise: Knee presses with elastic bands.
slide 5 of 8
slide 5 of 8, Program C: Knee presses with elastic bands,
  1. Sit tall with your feet comfortably apart.
  2. Wrap the band around your thighs just above your knees. You can tie the band or hold it tightly closed with both hands.
  3. Slowly spread your knees apart.
  4. Slowly return to the starting position.
  5. Repeat 8 to 12 times.

Program C: Arm raises with soup cans

Seated exercise: Arm raises with soup cans.
slide 6 of 8
slide 6 of 8, Program C: Arm raises with soup cans,
  1. Sit tall with your feet comfortably apart.
  2. Hold a soup can in each hand.
  3. Bring the cans to your shoulders.
  4. Slowly raise the cans above your head.
  5. Slowly bring the cans back down to your shoulders.
  6. Repeat 8 to 12 times.

Program C: Arm curls with soup cans

Seated exercise: Arm curls with soup cans.
slide 7 of 8
slide 7 of 8, Program C: Arm curls with soup cans,
  1. Sit tall with your feet comfortably apart.
  2. Hold a soup can in each hand, with your arms by your sides.
  3. Slowly curl the cans up toward your shoulders.
  4. Slowly lower the cans to the original position.
  5. Repeat 8 to 12 times.

Program C: Heel-and-toe exercise

Heel-and-toe exercise.
slide 8 of 8
slide 8 of 8, Program C: Heel-and-toe exercise,
  1. Sit tall with your feet comfortably apart.
  2. Slowly rock your feet forward until only your toes are touching the floor.
  3. Now rock your feet back until only your heels are touching the floor.
  4. Repeat 8 to 12 times.

Staying with your exercise plan

Here are some ideas to help you stay with your exercise plan.

  • Make exercise fun.

    Do activities you enjoy. Try exercising with a friend. It can be much easier to keep doing an exercise program if you exercise with someone else.

  • Set goals you can meet.

    If you expect too much, you're likely to get discouraged and stop exercising.

  • Give yourself time.

    It can take months to get into the habit of exercising. After a few months, you may find that you look forward to it.

  • Reward yourself.

    Build in rewards along the way that help you continue your program.

Credits

Current as of: July 18, 2023

Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board
All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.

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