Physical activity, an issue so important that each year the world dedicates an entire day to encouraging people to get up and get moving. But just because April 6th is officially World Physical Activity Day, it doesn’t mean we should forget about being physically active the other 364 days of the year. In fact, for the sake of our own physical, mental, and cognitive health, we need to be active every day (1-6).
Globally, it’s estimated that between 110 million and 190 million adults face substantial functional limitations due to aging, health conditions, and other factors (7). Despite this, getting and staying physically active needs to be a priority. This notion is supported by international guidelines, which recommend that people with a health condition continue to be as physically active as their circumstance allows (8-10). One approach to help keep people with functional limitations active is seated exercise (8). But does it lead to health benefits for older adults?
What the research tells us
A systematic review looked at the impact of seated exercise programs on impairment (e.g., cognition) and activity (e.g., mobility) in older adults with a health condition or impairment (e.g., frailty, recent discharge from the hospital, and recent hip surgery). Exercise programs were generally supervised, group-based, and varied in terms of program structure, composition, and setting. Examples of exercise types within these programs include progressive and non-progressive resistance/strength training, tai chi, and dance therapy.
The review found that seated exercise programs may improve cognition in older adults with a health condition or impairment, compared to receiving usual care or engaging in social activities. However, similar benefits were not seen for mobility or balance. In terms of safety, seated exercise programs seem to be classified as generally safe, although in some instances muscle soreness, joint pain, and back pain were reported (8).
Not represented in the review above are individuals living with a stroke. A more recent review suggests that seated exercise may help improve balance and mobility in this population compared to control groups such as standard therapy or sham sitting (11).
Although more research is needed on seated exercise, it may be a good alternative for older adults with functional limitations (8).
Health conditions—be it those that leave you short of breath, impair vision, or decrease balance—can make it harder to engage in physical activity. But exercises can be modified to help overcome some barriers. Consider a seated exercise program, but first speak with your healthcare provider about the benefits and risks, ideal program components and delivery formats for your specific circumstance, and precautions you can take to engage in exercise more safely.