Regardless of their medical condition, exercise is important for those in your care.

As caregivers, all too often we focus on the injury or illness of those in our care and we forget about the rest of their body. But the whole body needs to stay healthy, and exercise is an important part of keeping that person healthy.

One thing you need to remember, especially if you are caring for someone who hasn’t exercised in a long time or they’ve had a medical condition that has prevented them from exercising, start out slow. They’ll have better success not only doing the exercises, but also mastering them and creating a healthy habit.

Often, when someone first starts exercising they go too hard or too fast in that first session and end up risking injury or being too sore. If they get too sore the likelihood of them exercising the next day goes down. Before starting any exercise plan, please consult your physician if you have any pre-existing medical conditions or concerns about exercise safety.

Where to begin

If you don’t have access or the ability to get to the gym, there are many other affordable resources available. There are county and state cooperative extension offices in all 50 states and Puerto Rico. The type of resources each office has varies from state to state, but all offices have information available for you to get an exercise routine started. Most of the information is free, or at cost recovery, so it’s a minimal amount.

For example, here in Arkansas, the Cooperative Extension Service has a DVD, Fit in 10, for sale at The DVD features standard and modified versions of each exercise. One of the best resources out there is a free guide from the National Institute on Aging, Exercise & Physical Activity: Your Everyday Guide from the National Institute on Aging. You can find it at publication/exercise-physical-activity/introduction.

Take it slow

If you’re just starting out after not exercising for a long time, it can seem overwhelming. So take it easy for the first few weeks or months. Just focus on doing 10 minutes of exercise once a day. The American College of Sports Medicine concludes that you can get a therapeutic benefit from 10 minutes of exercise a day. Ten minutes is an encouraging amount of time for people in this situation. That old train of thought, that you need 20 to 30 minutes of exercise, can be overwhelming. But most people will think, OK, I can do 10 minutes.

Your goals for exercise should be focused on betterment of their quality of life, not only for something cosmetic like losing weight. Maybe the end goal for them is, three months from now, to set the table for dinner, tie their own shoes or simply sit up without assistance. Ultimately, your goals should be attainable and realistic.

Work together

There is a lot of research out there that shows social support in exercise is key for getting good results. Social support can be the caregiver doing the exercise along with the one in their care, or simply providing words of encouragement. It helps to mention how the exercises are benefiting both of you.

It’s also important to reiterate that results wont happen overnight, especially if you’re starting really slow. Give it several weeks, possibly even months, before you start seeing the benefits. Thats where your support and encouragement will make a difference helping them stay on track to meet their goals.

What to do

There are four general types of exercises aerobic, strength training, stretching, balance and you need to take part in all four types of exercise in order to improve overall health.

Aerobics is usually the first exercise everyone thinks about, and these are some of the easiest to do. If the traditional methods walking, swimming, jogging are too strenuous for the one in your care, have them lay on their back and move their legs in a peddling motion. Or, while seated, have them march in place. Whats important is raising their breathing and heart rate.

Strength training doesn’t mean you have to visit a gym or lift heavy weights. Exercise bands and tubes are affordable and easy to use. Also, pushing against your own body weight while seated in a chair is a simple way to work your muscles.

Stretching is important no matter when you do it before and after exercising. Whats most important is that you do it. Stretching prevents injury and increases your range of motion. This is crucial for individuals who are being cared for at home.

Balance exercises don’t always require standing, as there are several that can be done while seated. For example, if you’re recovering from a stroke and having to relearn how to walk, its important to work on recovering some of that balance. Things like shifting your weight from leg to leg or moving your hips back and forth, like a seatwalk, will help your balance.

Dont let their condition keep you down. They need to be as active as their condition will allow. Remember, there’s not an exercise out there that can’t be modified to fit any condition.

10 Minute Workout

This routine will take roughly 10 minutes and all exercises can be performed seated. Please consult your primary care physician before starting any exercise program.



March in Place: 30 seconds

Trunk Twist (turn at the waist): 8 to 10 reps both sides or for about 30 seconds

March in Place Wide-leg Stance: 30 seconds

Shoulder Circles Back (shrug/roll shoulders): 8 to 10 reps or for about 30 seconds

Head Turns (look both ways): 5 to 8 times, alternating sides




Shoulder Blade Pinch (push shoulders together): Hold for five seconds, (work up to 15 seconds), 3 to 5 reps

Goal Post Arms (raise arms, elbows bent, straighten): 5 to 8 reps (work up to 10)

Arm Curls (no weights, one arm at a time): Hold for five seconds, (work up to 15 seconds), 3 to 5 reps

Head Tilts: 5 to 8 times, alternating sides

March in Place (tighten stomach during exercise): 5 to 8 times, alternating sides, hold for 5 seconds

Butt Squeeze: Hold for five seconds, (work up to 15 seconds), 3 to 5 reps

Leg Extension: 5 to 8 times, same side, then switch legs




Hamstring Stretch (1 knee bent, straighten other leg): 2 to 3 reps both sides, hold for 5 seconds (work up to 20)

Shoulder Stretch (pull arm across body): 2 to 3 reps both sides, hold for 5 seconds (work up to 20)

Hip/Back Stretch (cross one leg, then other): 2 to 3 reps both sides, hold for 5 seconds (work up to 20)


LaVona S. Traywick, Ph.D., M.A., is the Associate Professor of Gerontology at the University of Arkansas, Division of Agriculture, and a Health and Aging Specialist for the UA Cooperative Extension Service. She received her Ph.D. in Gerontology from the University of Kentucky and her Master of Arts in Gerontology from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. She is an instructor and trainer for the Arthritis Foundation Exercise and Aquatic Programs, group fitness instructor and personal trainer through the National Exercise Trainers Association, Strong Women Program Instructor and Tai Chi for Health instructor.