7 Essential Bed Exercises for Elderly

 “7 Essential Bed Exercises for Elderly” was written by Dalia Richmond  & reviewed/edited by Katie Dodd, MS, RDN, CSG, LD, FAND. Dalia is a Certified Personal Trainer (ACE-CPT) and dietetic intern at Oregon Health Sciences University.

Importance of Exercise in Older Adults

 According to the World Health Organization (WHO), adults aged 65 years and above should include 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity.[i] Averaged out, this is about 20 minutes per day, but this number should be worked towards! It doesn’t have to be achieved during the first week of a new program.

For older adults who cannot do the recommended amounts of physical activity, WHO states that anything is better than nothing and individuals should be as physically active as their health allows.

Physical activity is essential throughout all stages of life, but for older adults, evidence suggests improvements in mood and happiness, as well as increased brain function and sense of well-being. Physical activity can increase muscle, which in turn can ease a person’s ability to perform normal day-to-day activities.

As well as muscular and mental benefits, physical activity is associated with decreased prevalence of cardiovascular related diseases, such as heart disease or hypertension.[ii]

Importance of Movement for Those Who Are Bed Bound

A study published in 2009 discussed and emphasized the importance of movement in individuals who are bed bound.[iii] While beneficial in many aspects, bed rest can lead to problems that may delay or prevent rehabilitation and recovery from diseases.

When restricted to bed for extended periods of time with minimal physical activity, individuals may experience muscular atrophy (loss of muscle), cardiovascular problems such as thrombosis, bed sores, or insulin resistance. These problems can also lead to more serious medical diagnoses.

In order to preserve muscle and reduce the risk of further disease or debilitation, physical activity should be included to the best of a patient’s ability. Remember – anything is better than nothing, when done in a safe and smart way.

7 Bed Exercises for Elderly

Here are 7 bed exercises for the elderly. Be sure to speak to your doctor before starting any exercise routine. Start with what you are able to do and slowly increase over time. Some people may not be able to do every exercise depending on their health status. Never do an exercise that causes you pain or discomfort.

 Hip Thrusts

  • Start by laying flat on your back on your mattress (without pillows under your head).
  • Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the mattress close to your buttocks.
  • While tightening your abdominal muscles and glute muscles, slowly press your hips up toward the ceiling and and hold at the top for 10 seconds. Then slowly lower back down.
  • Repeat 10 times.

Hip Thrust Tutorial


Shoulder ExercisesShoulder Exercises

  • Sitting cross-legged on the bed, let arms hang loose to your sides.
  • For the first exercise, raise arms straight out beside you until they’re at shoulder height and squeeze shoulders at the top. Slowly lower arms back down.
  • For the second exercise, do the same thing but with arms out in front of you, palms facing down.
  • Repeat each exercise 10 times.

Hand Exercises

  • Holding a pillow in both hands, squeeze the pillow tightly with hands for 10 seconds.
  • Repeat 10 times.

Leg LiftsLeg Lift with Modification

  • Laying with your back flat on the mattress, without pillows under your head and legs extended out in front of you, lift feet off of bed and towards midline of body so feet are straight above hips. Keep arms close to your side, pressed against the bed.
  • Bending the legs at the knees will make the exercise easier, while keeping legs straight throughout exercise will make it harder.
  • Repeat 10 times.

Sit UpsSit Up

  • Start by laying flat on your back on your mattress (without pillows under your head).
  • Tuck your chin into your chest to avoid neck pain, and use hands to support the base of the neck.
  • Squeeze abdominal muscles and slowly sit up without using the hands to assist.
  • Repeat 10 times.

Push Ups

  • Laying face down on the bed, place hand directly underneath shoulders. Slowly straighten arms and push yourself into a plank position.
  • Using upper body strength, slowly lower back down onto the bed.
  • To make this exercise easier, leave knees on the bed instead of maintaining a plank position the whole time.
  • This exercise may be too difficult depending on firmness of bed and current movement ability. Skip this exercise unless fully capable.


Flexion ExercisesFlexion Exercise

  • Sitting up in bed with pillows propped behind you, extend legs out in front of you.
  • Slowly and with control, point toes as far as you can away from you and then flex the back towards yourself.
  • Repeat this 25 times.

How to Make Exercise Fun

Believe it or not, exercise can be super fun! There are a few proven methods that make exercising more appealing and less like a dreaded chore.


An article posted by the American Council on Exercise discusses how music reduces feelings of fatigue, stimulates the brain, and improves coordination.[iv]

Guess what else? It also makes it more fun! Use a phone speaker or computer speaker to play some upbeat tunes. It will make the time go quicker and you might find yourself start to dance a little (which also counts as exercise!)

Make it a Competition

Although each exercise has a given number of repetitions, try to see if one day a week (say on Friday) you can increase the rep number by 2 or 3! This will keep your muscles and your brain working.

How to Stay Motivated

Sticking with an exercise routine and daily movement is crucial. It’s awesome to get into the habit of doing this daily and making it part of an achievable goal.


In order for this to become part of your daily routine, you’ll have to stick with it until it becomes a habit. Studies have shown that habits take 21 days to form, so for at least the first three weeks, try to exercise at the same time every day.

Although it doesn’t matter what time of day you choose to exercise, staying consistent is everything! Setting an alarm for 10 am every day will help you stay on track with those goals and formation of new habits.


It’s not uncommon that we are able to talk ourselves out of things that may seem like ‘chores’. In order to avoid this and be on your way to building a healthier lifestyle, try to have a friend or family member keep you accountable.

Just asking someone to shoot you a text or ask if you’ve done your exercise for the day can be extremely helpful to remind us. Life is busy and sometimes we need that extra push before an activity becomes a habit.

Safety Considerations

Everyone has different levels of physical ability. Be aware of your own body and limitations to ensure safety as you exercise. Here are some tips that may benefit some older adults:

  • Consider having someone present while you exercise – a friend, family member, caregiver or even a personal trainer can cheer you on while also ensuring your safety and well-being.
  • Listen to your body! If an exercise hurts, don’t push through the pain. Exercise is not meant to hurt, and it’s better to be kind to your body than pushing it too hard. Injuries can make it harder to perform any physical activity.
  • Start your activity at a lower intensity and work towards longer, more difficult exercise as you feel able.

This article includes generic information for a generally healthy older adult. Keep in mind that everyone has their own specific needs and limitations. As always speak to your doctor before starting any exercise program.

Some older adults may benefit from the services of a Physical Therapist (PT). Talk to your doctor about options available for working with a PT. This may include visiting a PT in their clinic or having them come to your home (home health programs are typically for those who are homebound).

Bed Exercises for Elderly Conclusion

The exercises recommended in this article should be used to maintain lean body mass (muscle!) and prevent undesirable side effects associated with being on bed rest. While they are a great starting point, this list is not conclusive. Individuals who are just beginning an exercise should remember to take it slow, listen to their bodies, and have fun!


Bed Exercises for Elderly Infographic



[i] https://www.who.int/dietphysicalactivity/factsheet_olderadults/en/

[ii] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6304477/

[iii] https://journals.lww.com/ccmjournal/Abstract/2009/10001/Consequences_of_bed_rest.19.aspx

[iv] https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/lifestyle/blog/5763/music-and-exercise-how-music-affects-exercise-motivation/#:~:text=Research%20indicates%20that%20music%20keeps,yourself%20harder%20during%20your%20workouts.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Scroll to Top