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Feel-better fitness

Have you begun to notice that you’re not as strong as you used to be or that you can’t get around like you used to? Or maybe your balance is a little off.

It happens to all of us eventually, but it’s not something you have to take lying down. The answer? Functional fitness: exercises that focus on flexibility, coordination, balance and endurance, so you can do your daily tasks without risking injury.

Functional fitness can help you remain healthy and independent. In a small study conducted by the American Council on Exercise, people ages 58 to 78 who normally engaged in traditional workouts (think cardio routines and exercise machines) greatly improved their lower- and upper-body strength, agility and shoulder flexibility in as little as four weeks using these techniques. Try the following exercises. But before you do, make sure you have your healthcare provider’s OK—especially if you have a history of falls.


Good for easier walking, jogging or climbing stairs; all you need is a chair.

How to do it

  1. Stand with feet slightly more than shoulder-width apart in front of an armless chair.
  2. Lift your arms in front of you so they’re parallel to the ground. Lean forward slightly at the hips.
  3. Slowly lower yourself until you’re almost sitting. Make sure your knees never come past your toes.
  4. Pause, then slowly rise back up to a standing position, as you count to two. Keep your back straight.
  5. Repeat 10 times. Rest for two minutes. Then do another set of 10.

Bicep curls

Good for strengthening your arms so you can lift heavier objects. You’ll need dumbbells of a comfortable weight or two cans of vegetables and a chair.

How to do it

  1. With a dumbbell or can in each hand, stand or sit in an armless chair with your arms at your sides and palms facing your thighs.
  2. Slowly lift the weights, rotating your forearms so your palms are facing up. Keep your upper arms and elbows close to your sides, wrists straight, weights parallel to the floor.
  3. Hold, then slowly lower the weights toward your thighs, rotating your forearms so your arms are at your sides, palms facing your thighs.
  4. Repeat 10 times. Rest for two minutes. Then do another set of 10.

Toe stands

Good for strengthening your calves and ankles and restoring stability and balance. You’ll need a countertop or a chair.

How to do it

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Using the counter or chair for balance (don’t lean on it), slowly push up as far as you can onto the balls of your feet. Hold for four seconds.
  3. Slowly lower your heels back to the floor.
  4. Repeat 10 times. Rest for two minutes. Then do another set of 10.

Eye balance exercise

Good for improving balance; all you need is a chair.

How to do it

  1. From a seated position, focus on an object 10 to 20 feet away. Stand.
  2. Keeping your eyes focused on the object, sit down, making sure to land softly when you sit.
  3. As you move, keep your weight on the balls of your feet, with your knees apart, chest forward and spine erect.
  4. When you feel comfortable enough, repeat the exercise with your eyes closed.

Seated leg extensions

Good for strengthening your leg muscles; all you need is a chair.

How to do it

  1. Sit in a chair, torso upright (don’t lean on the chair back). Plant your feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart. Place one palm flat on each thigh.
  2. Without moving your hips or back, slowly extend your right leg, raising it until it’s parallel to the floor (if you can’t do that, lift it as high as you’re able to or use the backrest for support). Hold for two seconds. Relax and return to the starting position.
  3. Do repeatedly for 30 seconds, then switch to the other leg.