13 Best Balance Exercises for Seniors to Avoid Falls
The best balance exercises for seniors aren’t as difficult as you may imagine them to be. There are numerous ways older adults can improve their mobility and strength to prevent falls. In this article, we’ll go through 13 of the best exercise programs that’ll address balance problems, relieve lower back pain, and increase core-strength for better movement and quality of life.
The Reasons Balance Declines With Age
It often comes as a surprise when seniors discover they are more accident-prone. One minute you could be brushing your teeth as normal, the next, you may strain your elbow while doing so! Some of the more anxiety-inducing injuries, like sudden falls, are directly related to balance and can be more frightening to deal with.
Certain medical conditions that affect our elderly loved ones, such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, various forms of dementia, arthritis, and more, can severely impact an individual’s sense of balance. This causes a feeling of uncertainty and difficulties remaining steady, which then leads to falls that can sometimes have catastrophic consequences.
Here are just some of the most shocking statistics about falls in the elderly:
Alongside the typical causes of balance decline, there are also ailments commonly associated with age that can lead to falls, such as:
A decline in vision: Not seeing clearly or purely relying on memory to map movement can make you more prone to falls.
Weakness in your hips and legs: Less range of movement can make walking more difficult.
Poor posture/spinal degeneration: Makes it harder to stand up straight and have a greater vantage point.
Heaviness in legs: Decreases ability to lift feet so tripping up becomes more commonplace.
Slower reflexes: Less able to react on time when something could cause a fall.
Medicine: Some drugs contribute to loss of balance, which is why many advise against operating vehicles or other machinery.
Low iron count/blood pressure: Lightheadedness caused by these conditions could increase the likelihood of a fall.
Although a decline in balance is to be expected as we age, there are certain exercises, activities, and strength training programs we can do to help us improve our freedom of movement and function, rather than only relying on external health care. Focusing on balance training within all our daily activities is a start to ensuring our bodies remain in good working order so we can carry on leading independent lives, and help prevent falls.
Three Main Sensory Points That Affect Balance
There are three main sensory points that affect balance in our body. These are located within our eyes, vestibular system (inner ear), and joints. When these work well in coordination with our musculoskeletal system, balance is greatly improved and helps us live a better quality, independent life without having to worry about suddenly losing footing.
Many of us take balance for granted until we are challenged with it. Maintaining balance is as much of a skill has staying active, and should be incorporated into regular workouts and other activities as much as possible.
As we move about, get up out of chairs or navigate difficult pathways, our three main sensory points work together with our bones, muscles, central nervous system, and brain to coordinate our balance to get from A to B.
The first sensory point comes from our eyes. Our eyes are the first port of call when informing our brain of the surroundings, helping us to assess potential danger zones that could lead to a possible fall.
The second sensory point is located in the inner ear, otherwise known as our vestibular system. Containing a fluid-filled semicircular canal, the inner sends a signal to the brain informing it of the position of the body in relation to gravity. Quite often, those that suffer from travel sickness or dizziness tend to have issues with inner ear fluid.
The third sensory point is in our joints. The activities sensed by the body through the joints is what helps us to stand up straight and have better coordination, especially important for activities like dancing or hiking.
While there are many more elements involved for maintaining balance than our sensory points, a lot of problems can be traced to an increase in sedentary lifestyles centred around comfort rather than activity. Chronic illness may play a part, however, a severe decline in balance can be prevented with regular balance exercises specifically designed for seniors.
The exercises listed further on in this article will help you optimize your upper and lower body strength, while working on improving balance and coordination using the three sensory points in conjunction with the rest of your body.
Take Precautions: Practice Balance Exercises Safely
The exercises listed in this article are designed for seniors who already have problems with balance and steadiness, as a result of inactivity over an extended period of time. To make sure you are practicing these exercises safely, whether at home, or in the gym, do take note of the following common-sense precautions:
Consult your doctor or physician before commencing any new exercise. There may be some medication that will prevent you from moving in certain ways because of contraindications that may include dizziness. It’s also important to rule out any other balance disorders such as vertigo or an ear infection.
Supervision. If you have a poorer balance, make sure you have someone nearby to help you should you get stuck on a particular exercise.
Do not do any exercise you are uncertain of. Get advice from a qualified trainer or have a physical therapist guide you through.
Only increase resistance when ready. Do not move onto the next level until you are sure it can be done safely.
Maintain good posture. Be aware of your body throughout all movements.
Do not move fast, or turn too quickly. This can inadvertently cause injury. Always ensure you move slowly when getting out of a chair or up off the floor.
Make sure there is a steady surface to hold on to. For these exercises you’ll sometimes need to hold on to a sturdy chair or lean your hand on the wall or kitchen top counter.
Don’t close your eyes. Blinking is OK of course, but closing your eyes while exercising may cause you to lose balance as your brain isn’t receiving consistent visual cues.
At first, the balance exercises may seem challenging, but the more you do the better you’ll become. Do as many exercises as you feel comfortable with, and slowly build up to more to continue your progression.
Before You Begin: Check You Have The Right Equipment
Before you begin, it’s a good idea to check that your surroundings will support the exercises you need to perform. As well as having someone on hand to help you if you need, here is a quick checklist of objects that’ll assist your workout:
The right footwear: As the idea is to work on your balance, try not to wear shoes that have a lot of “grip” to them. A simple, flexible leather sole should be enough, such as a soft, closed slipper.
A nearby countertop: Whether it’s your kitchen counter or a sturdy shelf, make sure you have a steady surface nearby to hold onto for balance, for e.g. when lifting your leg out to the side.
A chair: Use a steady dining room chair or any other chair that is stable and tall enough to hold onto. There may also be exercises where you’ll need to sit in a chair too.
Strap-on weights: If you feel like increasing the resistance of your exercise, you may want to include strap-on arm or ankle weights. Be sure to never add more weight than you are ready for. There is no shame in using small one to two pound weights. In fact, this may be more than enough otherwise you may be prone to injury.
Masking tape: If you have trouble keeping a straight line, take some masking tape and create a line on your floor to help with movements that require symmetry.
13 Best Balance Exercises For Seniors To Avoid Falls
Now that you have all your equipment and have taken heed of all the precautions, it’s now time to start the following balance and strength exercises! So here goes:
Balance Exercise 1: The ‘Heel to Toe’ Walk
This exercise helps to improve balance by strengthening the range of movement between the ball of your foot and toes. Stronger feet means a sturdier footing while walking.
As you walk, place your right foot in front of your left foot, with the heel of your right foot touching the toes of your left foot. As you walk, shift the weight from your heel to your toes. Continue this movement with each foot as you walk through.
Repeat for 20 steps on each foot.
Balance Exercise 2: Leg Lift
This is a very simple exercise that’s ideal to do at any time of day, when you find yourself standing in the kitchen for example.
Hold on to the back of a steady chair.
Lift up your left foot while balancing on the right foot for as long as possible.
Switch to the opposite leg.
Work up to not needing a chair to hold on to.
Balance Exercise 3: Static March
This exercise can be done while you hold onto a countertop, if you need help with balance.
With your posture upright, lift your left knee up high, then lower it, and switch the movement for your right leg.
Aim for a repetition of 20 times per leg.
Balance Exercise 4: Toe Lifts
This exercise is great for strengthening the muscles in your toes and calves, which will give you more stability in your movements.
You may need a chair or countertop to lean on.
Standing upright with your arms out in front, raise high up on your toes and then lower down gently.
Repeat this movement 20-25 times, or as much as you can.
Balance Exercise 5: Single Leg Raise
This exercise works your outer thigh muscles for improved balance.
Use a chair to lean on if needed.
Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Lift your left leg slowly out to the side with your toe facing forward, while looking straight in front of you. Lower your leg to the starting position slowly.
Switch legs and repeat for 15 times per leg.
Balance Exercise 6: The Cane
This balance exercise for seniors is fun and can even be used as a party trick once you get good at it!
You can sit down for this exercise, or stay standing up with your back straight.
The idea is to hold your cane, or any kind of straight stick upright in the palm of your hand.
Try to avoid the stick falling down for as long as you can.
Much like the side leg raise, begin by standing behind a chair to lean on for support.
Slowly lift your right leg behind you, while keeping it straight, never bent at either the knees or toes.
Hold for a few moments, then slowly bring your leg back down.
Aim for a repetition of 20 times for each leg.
Balance Exercise 8: Side To Side
Stand upright with your feet hip-width apart and pressed sturdily into the floor.
Shift your weight onto your left foot, while slowly lifting your right foot off the floor.
Hold for a few moments, up to 35 seconds.
Bring your right foot back down slowly, then shift your weight on to your right foot with your left foot slowly coming off the floor.
Hold for the same amount of time as before, then move your left foot back down.
Repeat this movement as many times as you can per side.
Balance Exercise 9: Calf Stretches
Stretching the calf muscles are important for stability and the prevention of cramps.
You can perform these stretches by standing in front of a wall, or in a seated position on the floor.
For the standing version, place your hands in front of you against a wall for balance. Put your right leg behind your left leg and push your heel into the floor. You’ll feel your calf muscle stretch. Hold this position for up to 20 seconds, or more if you feel you can handle it.
Repeat for 5 times per leg.
For the sitting version, sit on the floor with your legs stretched before you. Using an exercise band or rolled up towel, place around one foot and hold either end. Pull the bands/towel towards you while keeping your leg straight.
Hold for up to 20 seconds, then repeat for 5 times per leg.
Balance Exercise 10: Wall Pushups
Stand in front of a wall at arm’s length and plae both palms flat against it.
With feet firmly on the floor, lower your body against the wall bending at the elbows.
Push yourself back to the starting position slowly until your arms are straight and at arm’s length from the wall.
Repeat this movement up to 15 times.
Balance Exercise 11: Arm Lifts
This standing exercise is great for improving the coordination of your arms, and helps to facilitate better reflexes.
Next to a chair (in case you need to lean on for support), stand upright with your feet together and arms at your side.
Lift your right hand over your head and gently lift your right foot off the floor.
Hold for a few moments and repeat on the opposite side.
Repeat on each side up to 15 times.
Balance Exercise 12: Hand and Finger Stretches
These exercises can be done in a seated position and are aimed at improving the nimbleness and reactivity of the hand and finger joints.
Hold your arms out in front of your and scale an imaginary wall with your fingers. While doing this movement, move your arms above your head and hold for up to 15 seconds, then slowly come back down.
To progress further with this exercise, continue movement of your arms until you reach behind your back and touch your hands together. Hold in that position for up to 10 seconds and slowly go back to the starting position while still moving your fingers.
Balance Exercise 13: Shoulder Rotations
This exercise can be done standing, or while sitting down.
Lift both your shoulders at the same time up to your ears, rotate towards your back and slowly bring back down. Roll your shoulders forward slowly, and lift back up to your ears, then behind your back as before, in a continuous, rotating fashion.
Repeat this movement in the opposite direction.
Aim for 10 repetitions per direction.
Keep Practicing: Consistency Is Key
As we mentioned earlier in this article, balance exercises for seniors don’t have to be difficult. In fact, they can be very easily incorporated into everyday activities. As long as there is an awareness of trying to implement balance, you can find opportunities to practice these wherever you go.
Small actions equal big results, as long as you stay consistent and remember that the quality of your life is mainly a personal responsibility. You don’t need a gym membership, but having someone for support nearby always helps. That is, until you become confident enough in your balance again to exercise on your own.
As always, consult a doctor or physician before you start your new balance exercise routine.
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