Health and Fitness Information for Mature Adults

February 1, 2008              

Table of Contents

  • Maximizing Your Chair-Seated Workout (Introduction to special issue)
  • Focusing on the Upper Body (An expert shares exercises that work!)
  • The Neck (Improving flexibility)
  • The Shoulders (Making sure they're thoroughly warmed up)
  • The Upper Back (Strengthening exercise)
  • The Spine (Stabilizing activity)
  • The Pectorals (Stretch exercise)
  • The Biceps (Resistance exercise)
  • The Triceps (Extension)
  • SFA's Secure On-line Order Center is Now Open (Industry news)

Maximizing Your Chair-Seated Workout

Today Experience!
begins a two-part description of very smart chair-seated exercise routines, with upper body training featured in this issue and lower body work coming up in the next issue.

Our guest author is SFA National Advisory Board member Mary Ann Wilson, R.N., a long-time friend of the American Senior Fitness Association and the host of public television's popular "
Sit and Be Fit" workout series. Although her article is geared toward fitness professionals, it also contains good advice for lay-readers and gentle exercises that can be performed at home. It is reprinted by permission of the Senior Fitness Bulletin.

Focusing on the Upper Body

As a fitness instructor, I am often asked to include exercises in my workouts that focus on specific parts of the body. Normally I design exercise routines that balance out the entire body by stretching tight muscles and strengthening weak ones. A full-body workout can:

  • maintain mobility,
  • improve flexibility and strength,
  • correct muscle imbalances,
  • improve range of motion, and
  • improve stability.

However, concentrating on specific parts of the body can also be useful. Here are some gentle exercises for the upper body. Before you begin any upper body workout, always remember to have your participants correct their posture. A spine that is in proper alignment will help eliminate unnecessary neck and back pain, improve breathing capacity, and improve functioning of all the organs, including those of the digestive system.

The Neck

All movements involving the neck should be performed slowly and in a very gentle manner.

  1. Look slowly over your shoulder, right then left.
  2. Again look slowly over your shoulder, right then left. But this time also look back with your eyes as far as you can see.
  3. Drop right ear toward right shoulder. Circle head forward to center of chest, and then return it to the position above the right shoulder.
  4. Bring head back up to starting position (centered over shoulders).
  5. Drop left ear toward left shoulder. Circle head forward to center of chest, and then return it to the position above the left shoulder.
  6. Bring head back up to starting position, then ever so slightly extend the neck to look up at the ceiling with your eyes. Do not hyperextend (over-stretch) the neck.

The Shoulders

  1. Let right arm dangle down toward floor. Totally relax the arm and allow it to move in a circular pattern clockwise, then counter-clockwise. The movement should be coming from the shoulder joint. This simple movement warms up the rotator cuff muscles and is always a good way to begin any shoulder work.
  2. Sit up tall and touch right hand to left shoulder. Straightening your elbow, move right hand up to the right side toward the ceiling. (Picture the hand as an airplane taking off from your shoulder to the sky.) Follow the hand with your eyes. Then bring it down to the right side of chair (fingertips pointing to floor) and look down at the hand. Perform exercise twice, then repeat using left hand.
  3. Touch right shoulder with right hand (fingertips pointing behind you). Place left hand under right elbow. In this position: gently lift right elbow up to the highest point of comfort, then lower it down again; make a big circle with elbow by pointing the elbow forward, up, out to the right side, down, then back toward the front again.
  4. Repeat exercise #3 using the left arm.
  5. Allow right arm to dangle downward at right side of chair. Rotate palm forward and back 2 times. Repeat using left arm.

The Upper Back

  1. Reach up toward ceiling with both arms. Pull elbows back. Squeeze shoulder blades together.
  2. Reach both arms forward at shoulder level (palms down). Pull elbows back. Squeeze shoulder blades together.
  3. Reach both arms forward at waist level (palms up). Pull elbows back. Squeeze shoulder blades together.

The Spine

  1. Reach up toward ceiling with right arm.
  2. Then, leaving the right arm up, reach down toward floor with left arm.
  3. Imagine you are trying to touch the ceiling with fingertips of right hand while trying to touch the floor with fingertips of left hand. Stretch twice.
  4. Repeat exercise with left arm up and right arm down.
  5. Look at hands as you reach up and down. This is a great way to incorporate as additional exercise for neck flexibility, so long as you are careful not to hyperextend the neck.

The Pectorals

  1. Stretch chest muscles by reaching back and down low with both hands (palms facing back). Release.
  2. Open arms out to sides with palms forward, then reach back. Look at right hand.
  3. Reach forward with hands together and fingers interlaced. Round spine to stretch the upper back.
  4. Repeat above three steps, but this time look at the left hand.

The Biceps

  1. Starting position: right arm hangs down at right side with right palm facing forward.
  2. Bring right hand up to form a right angle by flexing (bending at) the elbow. The elbow should be tucked in close to the ribcage, with palm open and facing ceiling.
  3. Place left hand (palm down) on top of right palm (handshake style).
  4. Create a natural resistance by pressing the left palm down into right hand at the same time that the right palm is pressing up against the left hand. The amount of resistance can be adjusted as needed in order to prevent undue straining. Remember to breathe naturally and continuously during the exercise.
  5. Continue resisting while bringing right hand up toward shoulder.
  6. Return to starting position, and repeat exercise 3 or more times.
  7. Repeat entire sequence with left hand up and right hand down.

The Triceps

  1. Starting position: arms down at sides with palms facing back.
  2. Make gentle fists and place fists on hips with palms still facing back.
  3. With chest lifted and shoulders back but relaxed, extend both arms out to sides and return. Repeat 4 to 8 times.
  4. Return to starting position with arms down at sides, but this time with palms turned in facing the body.
  5. Make gentle fists, then slide hands up sides to lower ribcage. From this position, extend elbows back (straightening the arms). Flex elbows, then slide fists down the body again. Repeat 4 to 8 times. (Cue words: "Fists up, extend, bend, and down.")
  6. Return to starting position with arms down at sides. Abduct arms with palms up until hands meet overhead in praying position. Drop praying hands behind head to touch neck and then extend up toward ceiling. Keep your elbows pointed toward ceiling as much as possible while performing the exercise. Repeat 4 to 8 times. This is the best position in which to work the triceps muscles.

Complete your workout by placing the left hand on right shoulder. Cradle triceps close to chest and gently stretch, as you turn upper body to the right and look over shoulder. Repeat exercise to opposite side.

Now you've stretched and strengthened your class's upper bodies. I will follow up soon with a chair-seated exercise routine focusing on the lower body.

SFA's Secure On-line Order Center is Now Open

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For your convenience the following link, SFA Members, will take you to a special section of the center that reflects your member discount pricing. 

Of course, mail and phone orders are always welcome and accepted. If you have questions prior to ordering, please call SFA at 888-689-6791 or 386-957-1947. 

Experience! readers: Thank you for your interest and questions. Due to the high volume of contacts SFA receives, we cannot respond to individual queries or comments. However, the newsletter does address frequently asked questions and topics of vital interest to our members.

Free SFA basic membership: If you aren't already a member of the American Senior Fitness Association (SFA), just sign up online at There are no fees or membership dues. And, we don't give out our members' personal information to others! When you join SFA, you'll receive our e-newsletter "Experience!" which will bring you older adult fitness news, research, and wellness tips.

Fitness and health professionals: You may distribute copies of Experience! to your exercise clients and patients as a free newsletter service. Copies of Experience! or excerpts therefrom must always ascribe credit to the American Senior Fitness Association (SFA). To fulfill that requirement, include the complete banner (title information at the top of each newsletter) as well as all post-newsletter notes, messages, copyright information, and the SFA logo.
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