Chair-based exercise – busting the myths

There are a number of myths and misconceptions around seated exercise, the perception that chair-based exercise is only for frail older adults and those in care. Although it’s ideal for this group, seated exercise is incredibly beneficial and versatile and helps many others to improve their strength, mobility, fitness and confidence regardless of age or fitness level.

Julie, who has taught Move it or Lose it exercise classes at a hospice for ten years, tells us that chair-based exercise was the only way she could help those with advanced cancer or multiple sclerosis, aged from 35 to 85. They could only manage a few minutes exercise when standing but managed 45 minutes when seated. This not only brought about physical improvements but it also transformed the way they felt. It lifted their mood, reduced their fatigue, improved their confidence and ability to cope better with everyday activities.

Anne from Just Movement agrees – ‘In a nutshell, our ladies seem to love the camaraderie they get from our chair based dance classes. They talk about the group and instructors/volunteers as one big family. The exercise doesn’t seem to be the main driver for them coming along, they LOVE the music and the banter.’

  • It makes me so very happy to see my Mum and Dad, now in their late eighties, grooving away at home, evidently enjoying every minute and singing along with the music
  • Thank you so much for doing the classes. I really look forward to Mondays and seeing you, it really lifts my spirits. The music is great and I don’t feel so alone
  • I think chair on zoom is marvellous and we love it. Thank you for keeping us going, it really is the highlight of our week.
  • Thanks for cheering me up when I’m feeling down and you make me feel not so much on my own.

Anne tells us that they see the benefits every day in their Zumba chair classes.  Participants usually come along because they want to socialise with other people, enjoy the music and have some fun.  Some are trying to get back to fitness after illness or an operation and their GP has suggested some light exercise.  The majority of the group are trying to keep their fitness levels up and are delighted with just how much effort they can put into a class, using the different levels of effort.  They even have some 93-year-olds who demonstrate just how exercise is keeping them fit and able to function on their own.

Seated exercise gives a feeling of security that they are not going to trip over their feet or get dizzy standing up or moving too quickly. Routines encourage movement and flexibility with standing routines for the more able centred around the chair, so they can hold on to the back of the chair if needed.

Beatrice from Move into Wellbeing, where the majority of their sessions are seated, mentions a few of the benefits:

  • Posture work and Breathing – helps to bring the group into both an individual and shared focus and body awareness.
  • Upper Body Warm up -More complex arm and torso sequences can be explored, without disturbing the lower body parts alignment.
  • Lower Body Warm up –  allows a better isolation of feet, ankles and legs, without the weight of the whole body on them.
  • Full Body Warm up – helps explore twisting and mobilising the spine and the arms and slowly rotating and turning in the chairs by involving the use of the hips and the legs.
  • Confidence –  allows participants to explore and connect with their bodies with confidence.

When Move it or Lose it was commissioned by the NHS to run exercise sessions for patients with COPD in GP surgeries, chair-based exercise really came into its own. Not only were the patients suffering from breathlessness, they were also fearful about exercise. After just a few sessions they were reassured, surprised that they could cope and after 12 weeks were converts to regular attendees at classes. Gradually the intensity of exercise could be increased and being able to sit and get their breath back gave a sense of control and empowerment.

Tracey Barnes, Founder of Dancing for Health CIC worked with the University College Dublin, when they conducted a research study on the ‘Health Impacts of Online Dancing among Pulmonary Fibrosis Patients’.

The findings demonstrated that a virtual dance intervention is acceptable, enjoyable and feasible for improving health outcomes.  The participants found improvements in their shortness of breath and fatigue, as well as improvements in their mental health. The sessions literally helped them dance away the blues!

Finula, who was part of the study said “ I have enjoyed these last few weeks so much. To include Wellbeing in the title is so appropriate as that is exactly what I feel – in the anticipation, participation and aftermath. Physically too,  I really feel that my upper body gets a good workout, which is so good for cardio and pulmonary health.”

Para Dance UK’s main ethos is that ‘Everyone Can Dance’ and they welcome all ages and abilities to their inclusive dance programme, aiming to reach out to all communities across the country, both online and face to face, to get everyone dancing.

Para Dance UK ran a hugely successful project with SEN schools in the Birmingham area.  They tell us it was ‘joyous’ to see how beneficial their dance programme was to both children and the staff. At the end of the project, they held an inclusive Christmas themed dance day for almost 1,000 children!

All the inclusive dance programmes are suitable for wheelchair users, power chair, static seated or standing.  The regular activity increases fitness levels, improves stamina, strengthens the core and upper body, helps flexibility and coordination support and improves ongoing medical health conditions.

In addition, the regular dance sessions for adults have created an extremely connected group who have a lot of fun together.  Participating regularly also helps to reduce isolation by making friends, have a chat and is something to look forward to.

Fit4Tap adapted their program so that their Sit4Tap Seated Tap Dance Fitness is more accessible for anyone who would like to learn to tap dance from a seated position or standing while using the seat as a stability aid.

The classes are often a mixture of men and women, with two married couples, who come to support their partners at Sheila Chamberlain’s Sit4Tap Classes in Surrey.  She tells us of the benefits to her class –

  • An elderly man recovering after a stroke is no longer able to attend the Fit4tap class, but loves the seated version as he still gets to exercise and practice his tap steps.
  • One lady with mobility issues due to poor health and a weight problem, says how much more mobile she feels and how her confidence has improved.
  • A class member waiting for knee replacement surgery is able to keep up her fitness levels by attending the Sit4tap classes.

Sheila likes the fact that she can help people with mobility issues to get fitter, more mobile and to be able to enjoy any exercise class that suits their needs, while enjoying the social side too –

‘Just wanted to say how much positive difference I can feel attending the Sit4Tap class.  Convalescing from an abdominal op during lockdown and being very weak from a prolonged rheumatoid condition were hard to come back from.  This class is helping me get fitter and more coordinated . . . AND it’s fun . . . AND it’s giving more confidence with my balance!  Best thing I’ve found in a long time of looking for help”

‘Seated classes are not a soft option – they are fun, challenging, upbeat and innovative.’

Synergy Dance provides seated dance and yoga classes for all ages, abilities and needs from wheelchair based, to the visually impaired or with sensory impairments or those with a long-term health condition (LTHC).

Their ParaStars Yoga® can help lessen the impact of chronic illnesses as guided breathing and gentle movements can help regulate stress cycles and reduce anxiety, which, in turn, helps to manage response to pain, reduce heart rate and lower blood pressure. Seated yoga adapts traditional yoga poses to allay participants’ anxiety on whether they will be able to participate in the class as much as they would like, and lessens their fear of injury, of looking ‘silly’, or of being left behind.

Seated ParaStars Dance™ supports the participants in developing a variety of skills to –

  • Explore and experience different ways of moving.
  • Develop personal creativity and expression through movement and dance.
  • Practice coordination and rhythm through percussive and repetitive movements.
  • Gain confidence and enhance their wellbeing through fun and engaging dance classes.

EMD UK’s group exercise instructors, many of whom have a specialist qualification, are expert in supporting people to exercise safely. If this is a skill that you would like to develop, then you can contact our member organisations for information on their training courses –

You can really widen your scope of practice and help more people to be active with MIOLI’s endorsed FABS Training Programme for older adults which includes chair-based and standing exercise with £75 discount with the EMD UK bursary.

Dancing for Health are looking to train more instructors to meet the high demand for classes. If you are interested in their instructor training courses then please contact Tracey Barnes directly. Visit the website for more details

Synergy seated dance and yoga programmes have qualified dance, yoga and fitness teachers  experienced in delivering to ensure maximum benefit. To join the ParaStars yoga® programme as teacher, contact and claim a 10% discount by quoting EMDCHAIR