9 Simple Exercises to Build Muscle and Avoid a Sedentary Lifestyle

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For those of us who battle harsher winters, getting outdoors on a regular basis for exercise can be challenging during certain points in the year. Even those in southern states with more subtropical climates have to overcome obstacles. After all, it’s not easy exercising outside in 90-degree temperatures and 100-percent humidity. Older adults especially need to be careful of being outside for too long during extreme temperatures, as their bodies react differently to these changes.

No matter what climate you find yourself in, chances are that getting outside every day for exercise is a daunting task. We’ve all been there: the snowball effect of getting stuck inside and telling yourself the workout can wait until tomorrow. Or the next day. Or the day after. Before you know it, weeks have passed and you’ve lost all your motivation to get the regular exercise your body needs!

Don’t let getting stuck inside dissuade you from staying active. As we age, it’s important to maintain and strengthen muscle tone so our bodies don’t begin failing us. Below are nine simple exercises that will help to build muscle and avoid a sedentary lifestyle.

Many of these exercises (or movements, as they’re often called), center around an idea known as NEAT – Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis. NEAT movements focus a lot on stretching, turning and bending, which all help support many daily tasks we encounter. Completing NEAT movements on a regular basis during the day, both through the movements listed below as well as through natural activities, can help keep the muscles that accomplish these movements in tip top shape. Read why maintaining muscle balance through exercise is a vital part of a healthy lifestyle at every age.

Stuck Inside? Here Are 9 Simple Exercises to Build Muscle and Avoid a Sedentary Lifestyle

All exercises can be completed with only a chair and some small weights. (Don’t have any weights? Substitute soup cans!) Chair exercises are great to begin with before progressing to full-body movements.

  1. Shoulder Circles – While in a sitting position, place fingertips on your shoulders. Move shoulders forward in a circle motion for 15 reps or until you feel fatigue in the shoulder muscles. Reverse the movement and circle backward. This exercise is great to start with because of how much injury occurs to shoulder muscles. It also aides in warming up the area before moving on.
  2. Shoulder Rolls – Sit tall with feet planted flat on the ground. Shrug shoulders to your ears and slowly rotate the shoulders in a circle. Back, down, forward and back to the top. When you reach the top, reverse the movement. Try to complete 15 reps in one direction and reverse or alternate directions.
  3. Toe Taps – Sit straight up with feet flat to the ground. Bend your toes toward the ceiling and back to the floor. If this seems particularly easy, move forward to the edge of your chair and keep legs straight. Make sure to keep heels to the ground as you bend your toes upward and back down. Perform 10-15 reps.
  4. Knee Lifts – Sit straight up with feet flat. Slowly lift right knee toward chest, and then lower the foot back to the floor. Repeat with the left knee. Perform 10-15 reps. You can do all one side and then switch or alternate sides each rep.
  5. Tummy Twisters – Sit straight up in a chair. Keep feet flat to the floor. Push elbows toward your sides and keep forearms out in front. (Think dinosaur arms.) Then rotate torso from side to side, keeping lower body still.

Here are some additional exercises graduating from chair sitting movements to standing movements:

9 Simple Exercises to Build Muscle and Avoid a Sedentary Lifestyle
© Can Stock Photo / photography33
  1. Side-Ways Bend – Standing upright, stand with feet hip width apart and arms by your sides. Slide the left arm down your side as far as comfortable. As you stretch, you should feel the stretch in the opposite hip. Repeat the other side. Complete 15-20 reps for each side. If you want to progress this exercise, hold small weights or soup cans!
  2. Calf Raises – Stand behind a chair. Standing up tall, use the chair as a bracing point. Lift both heels off the ground as far as comfortable. Keep this movement slow and controlled. Repeat 5-10 times. To make this exercise more difficult, brace the chair with only one hand. Those more advanced can remove the chair completely. If possible, have a buddy standing close by, as this exercise can tend to make the calves suddenly very fatigued.
  3. Leg Extension – Rest your hands on the back of a chair. Lift your left leg to the side as far as comfortable, keeping back and hips straight. Avoid turning to the right. Return to the starting position and repeat with the other leg. Try for 15 reps each side. Either rotate sides or complete one side before moving to the next. This exercise can also be progressed to move leg from the sides to moving the leg slightly backward and then forward.
  4. Bicep Curls – Hold two small weights (5lbs or less) or a set of soup cans. Stand straight and tall and hold one in each hand. Standing with arms at the side, bend your arms upward until the weight reaches your shoulder. Lower back to sides and repeat. If this is difficult, do both arms at once and alternate sides.

Bonus tip – try yoga! It’s a great way to increase flexibility, balance, and overall strength. Read why yoga is perfect for older adults.

Listen to Your Body

Remember, the end game here is to better your physical health, not injure it! Be sure that you’re listening to your body during these movements, and not pushing too hard if you feel fatigued or any type of acute pain. Whenever possible, complete these exercises with someone else in the room should you need unexpected support. Also, remember to stay hydrated. Drink water throughout the day, replenish fluids after exercise. Read about the importance of hydration. An inability to get outside should never put a damper on your exercise routine! With these essential movements, you’ll never need to use that as an excuse for skipping a workout again.

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