Planning Active Activities for Seniors
As an activities director for a senior center or residence, I know it is important to plan some activities that will get people moving.
Many senior programs put very little focus on activities that get their seniors in motion. Perhaps they once had a boring, redundant exercise class that was poorly attended, and then assumed from that experience that seniors aren't interested in exercise. But in my experience, if you offer something fun, then they will be interested.
As people enter their golden era, arthritis sets in and osteoporosis appears, bodies slow down and balance is hindered. Yet despite these afflictions of old age, seniors can and must remain active, physically and mentally, because it is exercise that will combat these afflictions.
There are so many benefits to staying active as a senior, that you simply must include active activities and exercises on your monthly calendar.
Virtual Reality = Real Exercise
Over the last few years, Wii games have become a staple in senior activity planning. While some sports are no longer realistically doable for your seniors, the Wii versions still are!
Set up a Wii Bowling league. Have team names and everything. Maybe you could even challenge another senior center.
These are the Wii games that I have found most effective for seniors:
- Wii Sports: Boxing, Bowling, Golf, Tennis, Baseball
- Wii Play: Fishing, Table Tennis, Laser Hockey, Billiards, Charge!, Tank!, Pose Mii, Find Mii, Shooting Range
- Golf: Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11
- Wii Sports Resort: Swordplay, Wakeboarding, Frisbee, Archery, Basketball, Table Tennis, Golf, Bowling, Power Cruising, Canoeing, Cycling, Air Sports
- Carnival Games: Alley Bowling, Lucky Cups, Nerves of Steel, Hoops, and Day at the Races
By the way, I have found that the men in the group also really like the Wii hunting games. Finding a men's activity can be hard sometimes, so consider a virtual hunting trip:
- Cabela's Big Game Hunter 2010 with Gun Bundle
- Remington Super Slam Hunting: North America
Incorporating music into the schedule makes moving about more fun and less of a chore.
There are many types of programs you can do to encourage your people to dance.
Live music will always bring people out. If your budget does not allow you to book entertainment often, then you'll have to try to find other means. Put an ad on craigslist that you are seeing volunteer musicians. Contact the music department at the local high school—a high schooler could practice their music for your seniors and gain experience in front of a crowd.
However, even if you don't have live music, you can certainly put together some songs for a fun event. Pick a theme or a genre of music to make the event special (and different from the last event you held). Plan a line dance or a square dance. Hold a sock hop, or a Woodstock (with '60s music).
You could even choose a theme and choose songs from any genre that fit. For example, a Blue Dance where you play songs like "Blue Moon," "Blue Suede Shoes," "Blue Bayou," and "Blue Hawaii."
Look to the calendar for music ideas. Cinco de Mayo, Mardi Gras, Halloween: they all have music genres perfect for a party.
Your seniors will be swinging and swaying their way to fitness.
Dancing is for EVERYONE! Even people in a wheelchair, or those who cannot stand up to dance, can still chair dance.
Zumba is a very popular dance exercise program. It can be done from a chair! Check out this Zumba Gold: Chair Routine.
Also, check out this Latin Chair Salsa Workout! Wow!
I can recommend Jodi Stolove's DVD on "Chair Dancing Through the Decades." Jodi enthusiastically covers all the decades most loved by the people in your group: the music of the twenties all the way to Hip Hop.
If your group gravitates toward board games, then you can help make the game physical by buying or making a giant version of a favorite game.
- Giant chess. If chess is a favorite, then make it a social event (and a physical one) by getting a giant chess set. If you don't have it in the budget to buy one of these sets, try making one yourself or enlisting some help from others. Using styrofoam, you can make your own big chess set.
- Giant Chinese checkers. An oversize Chinese checker board can be used by up to six players at once. With six players around a big round table, you can see how much fun this will be. You could make the game board yourself, using a sharpie on a canvas tablecloth, by tracing the circles of the cups you will use as pieces.
- Nearly any game that is a favorite in your senior center can be made into a giant version with a little effort. It can be an activity making the giant game!
Plan walks as a group. Making walking a social event will help to encourage people to participate.
Plan a special walk, like a nature walk where you point out specifics about the plants or birds along the way. Perhaps you could make it a trip to a local park.
Again, you can add music to make it a special event. Hold a Jazz Walk or a Showtunes Walk ("Hello, Dolly," anyone?).
Seniors Love Yoga!
Yoga is a wonderful way to increase balance, flexibility, mobility, and strength. It is a relaxing and enjoyable exercise that is sure to become a favorite for your seniors.
Where there are balloons, there is fun. That is simply a fact.
A good old game of balloon volleyball will always cause laughs. Just line up chairs facing each other with a "net" between (it can be just a ribbon). Then play volleyball with a balloon (but with no three-hits rule).
You can also play a game of Keep It Up, and time each person as they try to keep their balloon in the air the longest (or longer than their last time), or just have them all go at the same time, and see who is the last to drop it.
They won't even notice how much they are exercising their arms and keeping their arms above their hearts.
If your facility has a pool, then water aerobics is something you should do regularly. If you don't have a pool, then consider putting a place that does on your day trip calendar.
Motion in the water is much easier, since the water helps you. Exercising in water has low impact on your joints, but the impact it makes on your physical health is amazing!
If you are planning a water aerobics class, be sure to have enough help on hand to make sure it is done safely.
It's always fun to bring out the hula hoops for a whirling good time. While many seniors may not be able to get that hoop going at their waist, they can try it on their arms (smaller hoops are handy for this, too). Be sure to have Teresa Brewer's 1958 song, The Hula Hoop Song, on hand to get them going. Fitness Tip: Bending over to pick up the fallen hula hoop is also good exercise!
Chair Exercises: Sit and Be Fit
There are several videos available with chair exercises. I don't recommend using videos exclusively, but rather starting with them until you, as the leader, have learned the exercises and can lead the class. You can use a video on days the leader is not available, and add new videos from time to time (with new moves) to keep things interesting.
The most important thing to remember is to keep things fresh and not to do the same thing every day. You have to keep them interested. Use music, or talk (or sing) throughout the exercises. Silence is boring.
I especially like the Sit and Be Fit DVDs, especially the ones like the one below which show both a standing and a sitting exercise routine. This video would serve the needs of all levels of physical ability in your group.
Chair Aerobics for Everyone: Boxing
Bowling is a great game to get people moving, socializing, and having fun.
You can plan a day trip to a local bowling alley, or you could set up your own bowling lane within your building. A blocked-off hallway will do the trick.
Golf and Mini-Golf
Golf is a favorite pastime of millions. A trip to a local golf course or driving range will surely be popular, and it's great for getting the men involved.
You can also do mini-golf on your own property, either by making a course in your yard, or by getting an indoor putting green.
Did you know that in China, 20-30% of all seniors participate in Tai Chi or Qi Gong on a regular basis?
Tai Chi and Qi Gong are wonderful for seniors as they are low impact and easy to learn. The two are different activities, but they share three components: body focus, breath focus and mind focus. Tai Chi includes more motion than Qi Gong, which focuses more on meditation.
Many activity directors shy away from leading a class in Tai Chi or Qi Gong because they are insecure about their own knowledge of these martial arts. The best way to overcome this is to invite someone to come teach the class. A local Chinese community center might be a place to start for this.
Videos like these are also invaluable. Be honest about your knowledge of the topic, and learn with your group. A little vulnerability will help you bond with your group, anyway!
Here's a Tai Chi video I really like for senior groups.
- Simon Says. This classic game can be as active or low-impact as you need it to be. It is also a good activity that includes people with low vision, or who are blind. To make sure people with poor vision are included, when you say, "Simon says," don't say "Simon says do this," but "Simon says...(be specific).
- Horseback riding. Obviously not feasible for all people or for all facilities, but riding a horse can get the body in motion. The movement of the hips alone is great.
- Ball toss. Any type of ball or bean bag toss can give the arms some movement. Knock things down with a ball or bean bag, or aim the ball or bag through a target.
- Bocce ball. Every senior center has a few guys that just love Bocce ball, and play all the time. Others join them often. If they aren't playing bocce ball, then they don't have a bocce ball set!
- Shuffleboard. Shuffleboard is the game people always picture seniors playing, and that's for a good reason. Seniors love it.
- Horseshoes. Horseshoes is a great game that is well liked by seniors. You can now get indoor versions that you can use in a hallway during the cold months.
- Parachute. Using a parachute for children's or team-building games might be fun depending on your group. Some groups shun the idea of it as too childish, but others go for it.
- Arm pedaling. Some people simply prefer to exercise on their own. If you have a pedal exerciser available that people can use with their arms, your seniors can work to strengthen their upper body at their own speed whenever it's convenient for them.
For detailed information about senior fitness programs, visit one of these great sites:
Holidays and the different seasons of the year give you an opportunity to create seasonal activities that will get their seniors up and moving about.
For example, for Thanksgiving, hold a Turkey Trot by inviting your seniors on a walk around the building or the grounds almost like a parade, while playing Little Eva's "Let's Do The Turkey Trot." A leader dressed in a silly turkey costume will help draw attention to your event.
In the winter, you can hold a paper ball snowball fight (or a cotton ball snowball fight). Ten minutes of throwing things at each other really gets your arms going.
In the spring, plan a Bunny Hop.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Gigi on July 12, 2019:
Try ping pong catch. And make a sling shot with a walker n use little water balls to sling
BeActive BeFit on April 10, 2016:
I Couldn't agree more with the importance for seniors to keep active. Also the need to keep it varied so as to keep the interest level high. Fab page.
JimHofman on December 04, 2013:
We need to keep moving no matter our age! Great suggestions here. I have related lenses on balance exercises and aqua jogging. Both good for seniors and low impact.
RusselHowe on October 24, 2013:
The intensity an individual puts into their own exercise activities will determine how effective they are at increasing fitness. The more one pushes their body during exercise the more it will grow. One needs to give a hundred percent to truly test themselves and challenge their bodies limits, expanding them at the same time.
harishchaudhary on October 03, 2013:
hi fun for seniors to smile as they get active to maintain their fitness. The thing is that the less you do seems to lead to doing less and losing independence that can be held onto longer by being active...add music and lets dance! I had never thought of wii for seniors but of course, what a great technology to take advantage of! Congratulations on home page honors!
Im2keys on October 02, 2013:
Bobbalou on September 24, 2013:
@PastorKay: we use brooms for hockey with a large ball and we use walkers for the goal
Bobbalou on September 24, 2013:
@anonymous: we play noodle ball with the pool noodles and a balloon (or two) We cut our noodles in half. We also play baseball with them- I have a GIANT blow up baseball.
Mobley5 on June 29, 2013:
Great lens. It's so important to stay fit and keep moving as you age.
AndyAsher on May 07, 2013:
Great lens with wonderful ideas.
Pastor Kay (author) on March 21, 2013:
@anonymous: I love your dodgeball idea! Maybe you could use the foam noodles and play chair hockey. Put chairs in two rows facing each other (maybe stagger them). Put a goal at each end and use a ball as a puck. Have the left side try to get the ball in the left goal, while the right side try to get it in the right goal.
anonymous on March 16, 2013:
I am always looking for fun ideas.....my group LOVES fun ideas...we do a lot of beach ball games, and right now they are LOVING dodge ball, with me being the one that dodges!!! (my group is aged 84-96 and they throw it at me and get points, Laughter points, for hitting me!) I bought a bunch of pool noodles and am trying to find something that can be done from their chairs with them.....anyone have any ideas??? Maybe an adaptation of baseball??? I am not sure they take 2 regular exercise classes during the week, my class is meant to be totally fun but to get them moving as well....I have no certification I just volunteer my time but I LOVE it and want to keep adding new things to the class....so any ideas would be greatly appreciated.
anonymous on October 23, 2012:
Very good info. Thanks!
gemjane on August 04, 2012:
What a useful lens!
anonymous on August 03, 2012:
You've brought nothing but fun for seniors to smile as they get active to maintain their fitness. The thing is that the less you do seems to lead to doing less and losing independence that can be held onto longer by being active...add music and lets dance! I had never thought of wii for seniors but of course, what a great technology to take advantage of! Congratulations on home page honors!
anonymous on August 02, 2012:
Some brilliant ideas on here, its wonderful to keep seniors active so they live longer and feel better. Our seniors should be looked after a lot more then they are over here were I come from. I see it every day were seniors are stealing more because they can't afford things, getting no help with exercise which could believe it of not really improve their way of life, and their health so running up to their last years they have a wonderful for filling retirement it hurts to see that their isn't much for them over here. Awesome Lens
peggygallyot on August 01, 2012:
I like the wii idea.
kindoak on July 31, 2012:
Awesome ideas. I think the Wii games is a superb idea for seniors. Lots and lots of business opportunities there for game developers!
OCDiscusFish on July 30, 2012:
AgingIntoDisabi on July 29, 2012:
Really great ideas!
Nancy Johnson from Mesa, Arizona on July 29, 2012:
A wonderful lens. We do lots of these activities and more at the senior community where I work as an activity director. We even have a Walking Club. This coming winter season, our theme is Winning our Wellness. We offer Ballroom Dance too which is supposed to really help with Alzheimers and memory.
YourFirstTime on July 29, 2012:
It's especially important for seniors to stay active for physical and cognitive reasons - great info!
Liz Mackay from United Kingdom on July 29, 2012:
Great lens with lots of activities to choose from. Blessed.
Kirsti A. Dyer from Northern California on July 29, 2012:
Wonderful ideas for getting seniors moving. I also looked at getting people moving for the motion challenge. Blessed.
Auntie-M LM on July 25, 2012:
Hula hoops sound a bit rambunctious, but lots of great ideas! Blessed.