8 Indoor Senior Exercise Ideas to Keep Residents Fit All Winter Long

When winter arrives, keeping senior residents fit and healthy becomes a challenge.

There are many benefits of regular exercise—both mental and physical advantages—so it’s important not to skip out just because the weather turns cold. Here’s why health and wellness are more important than ever in senior care. Keep your residents fit, healthy, and happy with these easy ideas for indoor senior exercises. You can adapt many of these indoor senior exercise ideas for various fitness levels and abilities to keep your residents moving while helping them have fun in the process!

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The benefits of physical fitness are huge for everyone. People of every age can see health gains and improvements when they start to exercise more frequently. Exercise improves cardiovascular health, lowers cholesterol, keeps muscles and joints healthy, and our minds sharp.

For seniors in long-term care, exercise is critically important to their mental and physical wellbeing. For seniors who fit in, even a little bit of physical activity can improve their wellness, sharpen mental acuity, and find more energy.

But when the winter months settle in, especially here in the Midwest, going outside gets dangerous. Afternoon walks are put on pause, and there’s a tendency for everyone to want to hibernate in their room until spring, which can have disastrous effects on mental and physical wellbeing. Keep seniors moving and healthy with easy indoor senior exercises.

The Benefits of Exercise for Seniors

Physical fitness has many benefits for the senior community. Improved circulation and blood flow can help cardiovascular health. Even seniors with health concerns and mobility issues can benefit from an increase in movement.

When seniors do resistance or weight-bearing exercises, they can increase bone density, improve muscle mass, and replace fat with muscle. The “grip test” is a standard indicator of health and wellness. Improving the ability to grasp a jar lid or turn a doorknob can help boost residents’ health and safety.

Seniors with health concerns like diabetes, hypercholesterolemia, hypertension, arthritis, and other common ailments can see marked improvement when they engage in an exercise program. It doesn’t need to be strenuous or extensive, either. Even incremental activity can offer benefits. The idea is to provide simple indoor senior exercises that anyone can easily enjoy.

Another improvement to safety comes from increasing balance. With better balance and core strength, older adults will experience fewer falls. They can move about more efficiently and have less fear and anxiety about being injured. Many older adults have a significant fear of falls, which may prevent them from otherwise engaging in activities that keep them social and happy.

Exercise and movement have been associated with cognitive improvements, better memory, and lower incidence of depression. When older adults exercise, they often get a mood and confidence boost. They feel a sense of accomplishment and autonomy. Better still, exercise gives lonely residents a chance to be social and interact with their neighbors.

8 Senior Indoor Exercise Ideas to Try Now

If your team is looking for new ways to engage residents in fitness activities, it’s essential to offer an array of options suited for all levels and abilities. Here are 8 senior indoor exercise ideas to help your staff encourage residents to move a little more this winter.

1. Games

Games are one of the easiest ways to encourage seniors to incorporate more movement in their day. Try a beanbag-toss game or darts, both of which can be played while seated or standing. Even cards, board games, and bingo can offer some increased movement and interaction. Set up tables and rotate with each hand to help seniors fit in those extra steps (that don’t feel like work).

For more active seniors, bowling (whether at an ally or down a hallway) and shuffleboard are enjoyable senior indoor sports. A soft “Nerf”-type ball can be used to play hot potato or thrown back and forth. Charades is another option to get seniors up and moving around as they play.

2. Seated Exercises

There are seated exercise videos on YouTube that make it easy for seniors and those with mobility issues to follow along. The PBS Series “Sit and Be Fit” is a wonderful option for all fitness levels. Active staff members can also lead seniors through simple chair exercises—all that’s needed is a chair and your body to start.

When doing chair exercises, be sure to start slow. Encourage residents to engage at a level that feels comfortable for them. The goal is to move a little more and to get comfortable with the idea of making exercise a part of their routine. Hand weights, a folded towel, or even a beachball can take the seated activities to the next level when folks are ready for more.

3 Dance

Many people respond to music and dance; it can unlock memories, encourage movement, and boost our mood. Help your senior residents get into the groove with dance! The easiest way to promote dance activity is to keep it simple. Hold a dance-gathering, where everyone can move free-form to the sounds.

If you can offer dance instruction, it’s also fun for seniors. Country line dancing, square dancing, or simple ballroom are easy to follow and offer seniors an excellent way to connect with their friends. Residents may also appreciate the use of scarves to help them move along with the tunes. Let them help DJ too! Staff may be surprised to discover many seniors’ musical tastes overlap their own!

4. Gentle (Yin) Yoga

Gentle yoga includes simple stretches that can improve posture, decrease back pain, and help seniors find more balance and flexibility. Find yoga videos online or join a virtual instruction program like “The Yoga Collective.” Let residents know that they don’t need to get on the ground to enjoy yoga’s benefits.

Historically, yoga has been a combination of breathwork and movement. Helping seniors to focus on their breathing with deep inhalations and exhalations can bring them a sense of peace and increase mindfulness. Remind them that yoga shouldn’t ever be painful—use only gentle stretches to improve flexibility and get “Zen.”

5. Standing Art Projects

Standing offers many benefits. Seniors who struggle with mobility may not stand for long periods, but if possible, encourage them to get on their feet a little with a great art project. Painting a mural, or even working on a large canvas, encourages seniors to stretch and stand. Photography may call for bending and crouching to get the perfect shot.

We don’t always think of art as a basis for movement, but it can be! Even crafts like crochet and folk art reinforce fine motor skills and grip strength. Drawing, painting, and sculpture offer opportunities for expression while getting seniors to move their arms and hands and connect their ideas to their bodies’ movement.

6. Walk-and-Talks

One of the best ways to encourage indoor senior exercise is to walk. Offer scheduled walkabouts down the halls of your facility, in common areas, or even around their suite. Walking with a companion or a staff member will help them keep their commitment and make the walk even more enjoyable.

Residents who use a walker, cane, or another assistive device can still receive many benefits from short walks through the facility. Walking builds stamina, increases blood flow, and offers mental stimulation as well. For residents in wheelchairs, a walk with staff can help them feel motivated to work on upper body strength as they point, gesture, and use their chair.

7. Overlap with Physical Therapy

For many residents in long-term care, rehabilitation, and senior living, physical therapy is part of their routine. If they’ve experienced an injury or are recovering from surgery, PT is probably part of their plan for success. Staff should work alongside physical therapists to ensure that senior indoor exercise programs are appropriate for their recovery.

Exercise and fitness activities can be a great complement to physical therapy. Often therapists recommend additional movement and “practice” outside of their regularly scheduled appointments. Senior residents may incorporate some of their PT recommendations into other activities like dance, games, or walks.

8. Challenges

If you want to increase the interest in physical fitness at your facility, look for ways to make it fun or “gamify” the approach. It can be as simple as having residents share their goals or setting a group goal of 15-20 minutes of movement per day. Give out small prizes or awards for those who keep the challenge.

Don’t rely on achievement as the only marker of success, either. Some less-mobile residents may feel discouraged if they can’t keep up. Make the awards scalable, based on participation, enthusiasm, or improvements, rather than typical physical markers of “fastest” or “most.” This makes it more accessible to everyone.

Physical fitness is an integral part of a long and healthy life. Keep your residents healthy and happy by fostering more movement programs at your facility. You may see improved health and other benefits to incorporating these indoor senior exercise ideas into your regular programming.