The Benefits of Seated Exercise

Sitting can contribute to well-being with some low-impact, high-reward exercises
By Nancy Berkoff
Nancy Berkoff
Nancy Berkoff
June 27, 2021 Updated: June 27, 2021

We know that staying sedentary can be a major risk factor for many diseases, but that doesn’t mean sitting is always a bad thing. Seated exercise is an effective form of exercise, whether for those that may have difficulty with standing exercises, or just those stuck at a desk looking for a quick way to burn a few extra calories.

Seated exercise can be beneficial for cardiovascular and respiratory health, help to strengthen muscles and improve balance, and alleviate joint pain and arthritis. Seated exercise can be done just about anywhere: in the comfort of your own home, in a class format, in the office, on a park beach, or anywhere there is a place to sit.

Long periods of sitting without movement are associated with obesity, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes, according to research from the University of Colorado and elsewhere. Even those with no difficulties standing may find sitting exercises beneficial when there’s no time to go for a jog or get to the gym, or for a change of pace. You can burn calories and increase your energy from your own living room. On-the-go people can use chair exercises to fit in a quick workout. In-the-chair exercise can be social—even on Zoom—and multigenerational.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, most adults should get 150–300 minutes of moderate cardio activity each week and strength and flexibility exercises two to three times a week. Well-designed seated exercise routines can be complete workouts.

Chair-based exercises have many of the same benefits as other forms of physical activity while being low-impact and gentle on the joints. Aerobic seated exercises can include modified jumping jacks, mimicking marching in place with high knees, simulated jump rope, and a modified football drill done by pumping your arms over your head for approximately 30 seconds, or until fatigued, and then tapping both feet simultaneously on the ground as quickly as you can.

Seated strength exercises can include bicep and tricep curls using weights or water bottles, leg lifts, and body weight lifts (don’t do these on a chair with wheels) done by holding onto the arms of the chair and slowly lifting your hips off the chair, with bent or straight legs. Chair stretching can include reaching for the sky with both arms, breathing, and twisting by turning your head to the right and torso to left.

There are many resources for structured seated workouts. Do a web search for chair yoga, tai chi, and “take a seated break” videos to find the one that fits you best. Dust off the rocking chair, as actively rocking can burn calories as well.

Seated exercises are convenient, easy to fit into a busy schedule, and can be done while watching TV or listening to music. You can do them with or without a partner, and they don’t depend on the weather or going to the gym. Select your favorite sturdy chair and indulge in aerobic, cardiovascular, joint, and muscle strengthening and let your furniture contribute to your overall health

Dr. Nancy Berkoff is a registered dietitian, food technologist, and culinary professional. She divides her time between health care and culinary consulting, food writing, and healthy living.


Nancy Berkoff
Nancy Berkoff