Hand-eye coordination and manual dexterity are essential skills that everyone needs, whether it’s to play an instrument, type on a keyboard, or perform daily tasks such as cooking and dressing. Unfortunately, many of us develop less than ideal hand-eye coordination and manual dexterity as we age because the muscles that control these things tend to be the first to suffer when the body isn’t used correctly (i.e., by sitting in front of a computer all day). Try these simple exercises to improve your hand-eye coordination and manual dexterity.
1) Flexibility Exercise
Ready for some fun? Sit on a mat with your legs spread far apart and perform alternating toe touches. No matter how flexible you are, there’s a good chance you’ll be sore after 20 or 30 seconds of just flexing your feet! If you want to make it more challenging, sit on a chair (your back against its backrest) and use one foot at a time. You can also sit on an exercise ball instead of sitting in a chair if that challenges your balance and strength. As with any new physical activity, take it slow, so you don’t injure yourself. Start out doing just 10-15 repetitions and build up from there.
Seniors who are looking to stay as active as possible should consider joining a senior living community that offers flexible exercise programs. This type of program allows seniors to continue their workouts even if they can’t make it to the gym or do physical activity outside. You may be surprised to learn that senior living costs are not high at all when you compare them to other types of care. Despite the recent trend towards ‘age-inclusive’ lifestyles, most geriatric residents still need full-time attention and support. As a result, many facilities charge significantly more for assisted living than they do for traditional nursing home care.
2) Wrist Rotation
This can be done in two different ways. The first method is with a weight plate held with both hands and rotated around one finger on each hand. Alternately, use an elastic cord wrapped around your fingers. Use different amounts of resistance and see what works best for you! Wrist flexion/extension: Using a resistance band, wrap it around your wrists and make small clockwise circles to improve wrist extension or counterclockwise circles for wrist flexion. Elbow extension: Wrap a resistance band around your elbows and place it behind your back. This will exercise elbow extension using only your arms. Hold them at shoulder height while keeping elbows locked in position behind you if using weights.
3) Wrist Extension
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and place a softball between your hands. Gently clasp both hands together and push outwards so that you create resistance on the ball. Hold for 10 seconds before slowly lowering your arms. Repeat up to 15 times, 2 times per day. To increase difficulty, gently place one hand behind your back while performing wrist extension. This will increase your body’s reliance on only one arm while extending it outwards, making it a challenging exercise for your grip strength. Perform 1 set of 20 extensions with each arm on 2 separate days per week as you progress.
4) Pinch & Spread
This is a great exercise for improving fine motor skills. Hold up your index finger and thumb with just enough space between them to fit a peppercorn or grain of rice in between. Squeeze as hard as you can until your two fingers meet, then spread them out again. Repeat 10 times. Increase or decrease how much space between your fingers and increase or decrease how difficult it is. Start easy to get used to squeezing, then try spreading smaller items apart (like grains of rice) until you become more skilled at handling objects like these very small items. Once you are comfortable doing these exercises, try handling coins (quarters and dimes work best), which will challenge your grip strength further!
5) Carpal Tunnel Stretch
The carpal tunnel is a small tunnel of ligaments that run through your wrist and connect several of your hand’s bones. The median nerve passes through it, supplying feeling and movement to your thumb, index finger, middle finger, and palm-side of your ring finger. Symptoms include numbness or tingling in those areas. That can be caused by inflammation or pressure on that nerve, such as carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). For some simple stretches that may help reduce CTS symptoms, see below. Follow these steps: Stand straight with both feet flat on the floor to do each stretch. Place one arm straight out in front of you with a slight bend at your elbow and forearm positioned parallel to the floor.
6) Finger Extensor Strength
In order to grasp, pinch, poke and rub things more easily, work on finger extensor strength. That means squeezing and extending each individual finger for about 5 seconds at a time with a 15-second break in between. Make a fist and repeat once you’ve worked through all your fingers. You should do three sets of 15 reps per day; gradually increase until you can do 100 in a row without much trouble. It may feel weird at first (as most exercise does), but it will feel completely normal before long – plus, it will help improve manual dexterity by giving you better control over small movements of your fingers. Because as anyone who has ever used chopsticks knows: It’s not so easy trying to pick up tiny objects!
7) Finger Adduction Strength
This exercise is perfect for someone who uses their hands throughout their daily routine. Finger adduction helps your strength in a variety of ways, including strengthening your finger extension, pinching, and grasping muscles. To perform:
- Squeeze a ball with your opposite hand so that it pulls in towards your body.
- Hold for 3–5 seconds and repeat 10 times.
- Aim to do three sets a day on non-consecutive days for best results. If you find it too difficult, try squeezing without moving or adding some hand weights for extra weight resistance; if you find it too easy, try using two balls at once!
8) Thumb Opposition Strength
This is an essential skill for musicians, who rely on their hands for their livelihood. It’s also useful for everyday activities like gripping utensils, holding pens, and playing instruments. And as it turns out, it’s fairly easy to train: try closing your thumb and pinky finger together with your pointer finger—your thumb should be able to touch your pointer finger. If you struggle, repeat 50 times per day until you get better. You’ll likely notice results within a few weeks of regular practice.
There are many ways to improve your manual dexterity, whether by picking up coins with your toes or shifting gears without using your hands. Doing exercises like these every day can help you increase your fine motor skills, which are essential for everything from writing and throwing a ball to getting dressed in the morning. Even if you’re not sure how manual dexterity applies to your job, it’s always a good idea to practice basic hand-eye coordination; whatever type of work you do, you should be able to do it with speed and ease.