Seated Exercise Series: Chair Calisthenics 

Kristina Sandstedt, MS, Clinical Exercise Physiologist,

 Diabetes Educator 

Part 1: Chair Calisthenics 

Individuals with diabetes who suffer from chronic complications such as severe peripheral neuropathy, severe peripheral vascular disease, unstable congestive heart failure and morbid obesity, often do not engage in exercise programs.  It is useful, however, for this group to participate in physical activity programs to improve or maintain their functional capacity and strength. 

You are probably wondering what physical activity programs are appropriate for you.  The most appropriate thing to do is build an exercise routine that not only allows you to perform the exercises successfully, but that also has the potential of instilling healthy lifestyle habits.  These new habits will form a path to improved blood sugar control, improved functional capacity and strength. 

The seated exercise routine is designed for individuals who suffer from chronic complications of diabetes and are unable to participate in aerobic exercises.  Keep in mind, however, that this may be the stepping stone you need to achieve your goal of participating in low-level aerobic, or more active, exercise. 

Chair Calisthenics:

Calisthenics are rhythmical exercises that help improve range of motion, joint flexibility, muscular endurance, balance and coordination.  Start with 5 repetitions of each set and gradually increases to 10-12 repetitions for a total of 10minutes.  Progress by adding 3-5 minutes at the beginning of each new week.   



Arm Circles:

Arms Front/Swim:



Arm Pull Backs/Out

To the Left and Right


Windshield Wipers 

Isolation Arm Sequence

Hip Flexor Muscle Exercise

Elbow to Knee

Leg Extension

If you feel you cannot complete all of the exercises in one session, then break up the exercises into 2-3 sessions.  You know your body better than anyone, therefore a realistic outlook will foster success.  By starting slowly and gradually increasing your exercise sessions, you will have a more enjoyable and successful experience. This particular method will help you to feel more energy after the activity rather than completely worn out. In addition, you will feel refreshed when you are done rather than relieved that the task is over.   Most importantly, you will feel proud and satisfied because you have accomplished the goal.  It is the successes that motivate us to continue striving towards the long-term goal.  You will have to decide what your long-term goal is, keeping in mind that the long-term goal is not usually achieved in one or two weeks, but perhaps in one or two months. 

Along with goal setting comes a few other important tools for success.  Specifically, positive self-talk which is the inner conversation that we all have with ourselves.  This conversation is not only a reflection of our thoughts and emotions, it also has a strong influence on how successful we are at making lifestyle changes.  Self-talk that is positive and upbeat leads to success as those inner messages are clearer and easier to listen to.  Self-talk that is negative and distorted can get in our way and act as a barrier.  In addition, weighing out the cost and benefit of participating in the exercise routine can be a useful tool for success.  Every day we make several cost/benefit decisions, particularly when we think about making lifestyle changes.  If we see the cost as being reasonable and the benefit of what we’ll get in return as being worth it, we tend to buy into the idea of making changes.  But if the cost seems to high and the benefits are uncertain, we usually are not as likely to make the effort.  Therefore, doing a cost/benefit analysis, which really allows us to more clearly define the pros and cons of our respective situations, help us make an informed decision about whether or not the effort is worth the result before you make a particular lifestyle change. 

Remember that you have to be motivated to pursue a new habit or to change an old one.  Your motivations will changes from time to time.  Most individuals who have been recently diagnosed with diabetes report that fear is their motivator. Others who have been managing diabetes for quite some time report family, significant others and avoiding complications as their motivator. 

My next article will provide chair exercises using a thera/flexband. These types of exercises also help us to build lean muscle tissue.


Diabetes Management Therapies, a core curriculum for Diabetes Education, Fourth Edition. The American Association of Diabetes Educators, 2001. 

The “I hate to exercise book” for people with diabetes.  Charlotte Hayes, MMSc, MS, RD, CDE.  American Diabetes Association, 2000. 

The Best is yet to come, an exercise handbook.. D. Bruckerhoff, RN, Certified Exercise Specialist. Boone Hospital Center, WELLAWARE.

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