Sit to Get Fit

When balance and coordination concerns threaten to bench seniors, chair-based sports help get players back into fitness

WRITTEN BY Peyton Bezek

Some 36 million older Americans report falls each year, and one-fifth of these incidents result in serious injury. Regular exercise, including balance, flexibility and endurance training, offsets that risk, reducing the rate of falls by nearly 25 percent. But a tumble during a workout can also be one of the biggest risks to a senior’s health, explains Dr. Nichole Watson, a Roper St. Francis Healthcare affiliated primary care doctor. For seniors prone to dangerous spills, chair sports provide a stable platform to introduce gentle fitness into a daily routine.

The Lowcountry and Waring senior centers regularly host a variety of chair-based athletics, including volleyball, yoga, aerobics and drum ball (a music-based activity that involves upbeat drumming on an exercise ball). Participants remain fully seated in stationary chairs, but these fitness classes are anything but sedentary. Chair workouts have been shown to reap similar benefits to their standing counterparts, including boosting heart rate and blood flow. Pointing to a 2017 study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, Dr. Watson explains, “chair yoga classes have been shown to lessen arthritis pain, reduce fatigue and improve overall well-being.”

While the best candidates for chair sports are those who have difficulty with more strenuous exercise on their feet, the classes can be enjoyed by people of all capability levels. For those who have trouble with coordination or extended standing, chair sports greatly lower the chances of falling while exercising. Simultaneously, regular participation in chair sports can reduce the likelihood of a fall outside of class by enhancing balance and hand-eye coordination.

“In addition to bolstering physical health, these group fitness classes support mental health,” Dr. Watson says. “Participants benefit from being energetically engaged in an activity and connecting with other attendees who may be in similar stations in life.”

Pull Up a Seat

Want to give chair-based workouts a go? Here’s how to be prepared:

  1. Lace up: Close-toed tennis shoes are optimal when participating in chair sports.
  2. Step up: Be ready to exercise both your mind and body with workouts that strengthen balance, fine-motor, endurance, communication and reaction skills.
  3. Amp up: To further the workout, instructors may add resistance bands and free weights to the routine.
  4. Check up: Always consult with your doctor prior to beginning a new exercise regimen.

Join the Fun!

The Lowcountry and Waring senior centers welcome members and guests to participate in an assortment of free chair-based classes every week. For an updated schedule and class details, visit

New Research: Prescribing People

Lonely seniors may lean more on high-risk medication combos

Senior loneliness and polypharmacy are close friends, according to a research letter published this summer in JAMA Internal Medicine. Relying on data gathered over a 10-year period from 6,107 participants aged 65-plus, researchers calculated a significant correlation between results on a loneliness questionnaire and the use of multiple mood-altering drugs. Combining prescriptions aimed at depression, anxiety, sleep disorders and more can pose a serious risk of adverse reactions. Yet, those who lacked social support relied on various psychotropics six to 13 percent more than those without loneliness indicators, found the report. Though the level to which loneliness actually causes overmedication remains unclear, study authors still encourage doctors to promote community-based social programs as a viable alternative to popping more pills.

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