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Top 5 Best Functional Exercises for Seniors

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A mature couple doing kettlebell pull ups during a fitness session.

An active lifestyle can benefit your everyday life, making daily tasks easier to complete as you age. One way to improve your movement and overall strength is to incorporate functional movements into your exercise routine.

Continue reading to learn more about functional exercises, including what they are, their benefits, and the top 5 exercises for older adults. 

What Is Functional Exercise? 

Utilizing functional exercise involves using everyday movements in your training routine. These exercises use large groups of muscles across your body. An example is a squat—you do a squat every time you sit down in a chair. 

However, not all exercises are functional. When you think about going to the gym, you may picture someone doing bicep curls with dumbbells. While this exercise can be beneficial, it isn’t functional.

Non-functional exercises target one muscle or muscle group in the body. Many strength-building exercises aren’t functional because they focus on building size in a specific body area. Functional exercises focus on improving your movement. 

Some common examples of functional exercises include: 

  • Push-ups
  • Lunges
  • Squats
  • Jump squats
  • Lateral bounds (running from side to side)
  • Jumping jacks
  • Balance movements (exercises completed while balancing on one leg)

The Benefits of Functional Exercise

There are many benefits to incorporating functional exercises into your life. These exercises help your muscles work together, improving balance and coordination and protecting you from injury. 

Functional exercise helps train the muscles you use every day, making activities easier as you become stronger. For older adults, functional exercise can help lower the risk of falls. 

Another benefit of functional exercise is that it can help prevent future injuries. Functional exercises help protect your spine from movement causing back pain. 

The 5 Best Functional Exercises for Seniors

There are many functional exercises you can incorporate into your life. It can be hard to know where to begin with so many variations and difficulty levels.

Consider using the following exercises to begin your functional training routine. 


Squats help target your legs, lower back, and core. You use a squatting motion in many everyday activities, such as sitting on a couch, chair, or toilet or lifting heavy objects. Adding squats to your exercise routine can help you get down to the floor without worrying about getting back up. 

Many squat variations exist, but a good starting point is the chair squat. Use the following steps to perform a chair squat correctly: 

  • Stand in front of a chair with your feet shoulder-width apart
  • Slowly squat down into the chair, bending your knees & leaning forward at the waist
  • Return to your standing position by leaning forward, squeezing your glutes (your buttocks), & pushing down through your heels
  • Repeat this motion for 10 squats


You’ve likely heard of push-ups before—they’re a staple exercise anyone can benefit from. They help build your upper body and core strength. Incorporating push-ups into your exercise routine can help when you need to move something, break a fall, or use your upper body strength in a task. 

Like squats, there are many push-up variations you can use. A beginner exercise is the wall push-up. You can perform a wall push-up properly using the following steps: 

  • Stand 2–3 feet away from a wall
  • Place your hands chest-high on the wall, with your arms shoulder-width apart
  • Slowly bend your elbows & lower your chest to the wall
  • Use your arms to push yourself back up to starting position
  • Repeat this motion to complete 10 push-ups

Farmer’s Carry

The farmer’s carry, or farmer’s walk, is an exercise working your shoulders, biceps, forearms, upper back, glutes, hamstrings, calves, and core. It’s a great exercise that can make carrying items, sweeping, vacuuming, and other activities easier to perform. 

You can do a farmer’s carry correctly with the following steps: 

  • Stand up straight while holding a light object (dumbbell, water bottle, etc.) in each hand
  • Tighten your abdominal muscles while keeping your shoulders relaxed
  • Keeping your posture straight, begin walking forward
  • Walk for 30 seconds, rest for 5 seconds, & repeat this motion 5 times

Stair Climbs

Stair climbing involves what you’d guess, climbing stairs. This exercise can help build strength in your legs, making stairs and curbs easier to navigate. You don’t need to go up an entire set of stairs to experience the benefits of this exercise. 

You can complete stair climbs with the following steps: 

  • Stand in front of a set of stairs, using a railing for safety if necessary
  • Place your right foot on the first step
  • Use your leg muscles to step up without pushing on the railing or hopping upwards
  • Step back down onto the floor
  • Repeat this motion with your left leg & alternate this motion for 10 steps on each leg

Single-Leg Stand

A single-leg stand can help improve your balance and coordination, making it easier to step into the car or get out of the shower. 

Follow these steps to complete a single-leg stand, using a chair for support: 

  • Stand with your feet together
  • Tighten your core muscles
  • Lift one foot off the ground for at least 30 seconds, keeping yourself straight
  • Lower your foot & repeat with the other leg
  • Repeat this motion 10 times on each leg

Help Your Body Work as One 

Functional exercises can help your muscles work together to protect your body and improve mobility. While starting these exercises may seem daunting, your body will thank you later. Many senior living communities offer physical therapy services, helping you stay active and healthy. Trained staff can recommend the best functional exercises for your needs and help you exercise properly. Contact us if you’re interested in the services we offer.

Written by bentley

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