Activities and Exercises to Improve Manual Dexterity

Anyone can experience difficulties using their hands and lose finger dexterity, but it’s most common among seniors. In fact, one study indicated that hand problems are common among individuals over the age of 50, and even more so over the age of 65.

However, increasing hand strength isn’t enough to resolve these issues. One study revealed that manual dexterity is more important. Research has proven that seniors with well-functioning hands and fingers have stronger executive functioning. This includes working memory, self-control, and flexible thinking. Poor manual dexterity, on the other hand, is associated with a high risk of memory impairment.

If you are in need of senior care services in or near Colorado Springs, contact Gentle Shepherd Home Care. We have been in your position, searching for quality caregivers to care for our aging parents, so we only hire those that we would trust. We are locally-owned, not a large chain, so you get a more personal touch.

Below, we’ll explain a few of the ways that the hands weaken as we age, as well as 10 easy activities and exercises to improve manual dexterity.  

Common Reasons for Weakening Hands

Some of the most common causes of weakness and pain in the hands include:

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

This condition occurs when the nerve running from the neck to the thumb to the ring finger is compressed. It is characterized by weakness, pain, numbness, and tingling in the hand and fingers. In addition, fingers may feel tight, swollen, or stiff. Many times, carpal tunnel syndrome also results in a loss of thumb strength/dexterity.


Osteoarthritis is a condition resulting from the wearing away of the protective cartilage in the joints. This results in pain and weakness. Many times, the hands and fingers may get stiff or swell, especially at the start of the day.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory condition that impacts the lining of the tendons and joints. Typically, the smaller joints are attacked first, resulting in swelling, stiffness, and pain in the fingers.

If you are experiencing any of these signs and symptoms, you need to see your medical provider. They will be able to diagnose and prescribe the best course of treatment. In addition to the prescribed treatment, there are some easy activities that you can do to improve your manual dexterity.

10 Exercises or Activities to Improve Manual Dexterity

Below, we’ve provided 10 simple exercises and activities that you can do to improve your manual dexterity.

Finger Lifts

Start by placing your palm on a flat surface. Then, try to lift one finger off the table at a time. This will probably be challenging, as your fingers may try to move together. Repeat several times with each hand. This will improve flexibility in your fingers.

Learn to Play a Musical Instrument

Learning to play a musical instrument, such as a violin, flute, piano, clarinet, or guitar can improve finger flexibility as well as hand muscles. If you don’t think you’re up for this challenge, listen to music and clap or snap along to the beat.

Practice Making a Fist

Make a fist, squeezing inward as hard as you can. Hold for 3 to 5 seconds before releasing slowly. Repeat with the other hand. Do this five times on each hand. This will increase dexterity.

String Games

String games, such as Cat’s Cradle, is something you can do on your own to keep your fingers and hands flexible and strong. Simply get a length of string/yarn that is approximately 30 to 80 inches long. Then, find instructions either in a book or online. In addition to working your hands and fingers, this activity will work your mind.

Practice Your Handwriting

As a child, you had to practice your handwriting to improve it. Now, as an adult, it’s time to practice it again to improve your dexterity. Start by picking up a pen/pencil and try to hold it and write without supporting it with your thumb. This will also give your brain a workout. Then, switch to your non-dominant hand and write. Research shows that your non-dominant hand loses dexterity sooner than your dominant one. Do this a few times a day.

Practice Sorting Small Items

Gather some pasta shapes, beads, seeds, buttons, jewelry, coins, or anything else that can be sorted. Use small cups/empty ice cube trays to hold the pieces as you sort them. Place the items in a pile on your table and start picking them up and sorting them one by one.

Learn Origami

Origami, the Japanese art of paper-folding, can be a lot of fun to learn. Find a book of origami designs or look some up online. Then, get some paper and start folding. As you work on your manual dexterity, you’ll have some fun projects to show for it.

Learn Needlecrafts

Needlecrafts, such as knitting, sewing, cross-stitch, needlepoint, and crochet, are ideal ways to work on your finger dexterity. In the process, you create fun, useful items. You may also want to learn non-needle crafts such as macrame.

Work with Clay/Putty

Working with clay or putty is a great way to improve/maintain manual dexterity. You can make shapes with your hands, or you can roll it out like cookie dough and use small cookie cutters, or you can simply roll it into lengths, like a snake. Take it a step further by mixing in beads, coins, buttons, or other small objects and dig them out with your fingers.

Use a Locks/Latches Board

Create a board with locks, latches, and/or nuts and bolts. This is a great way to exercise your hands and fingers. In addition, it will occupy your time for a while.

Home Care in Colorado Springs

The older we get, the greater our risk of losing dexterity and hand strength due to age and other factors. However, there are some easy activities and exercises that you can do to improve strength and dexterity in your hands and fingers.

If you are in or near Colorado Springs and need in-home senior care for yourself or a loved one, contact Gentle Shepherd Home Care. We are a locally owned senior care service offering a variety of services including Respite Care, Recovery Care, Specialized Care, and more. We have been in your shoes, so you can be sure that we only hire individuals that we would trust with our loved ones.  
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