7 Balance Exercises to Keep You Flexible and Limber

Seniors don’t want to feel like a burden to loved ones, but some symptoms older adults experience are out of anyone’s control.

Chronic health conditions, medication challenges, loved ones fussing over you — it can add up!

A good idea is to focus on what is controllable, like a healthy daily routine.

Consistently performing just a few balance exercises promotes better balance and improves coordination.

Simple balance exercises prevent injury and reduce the risk of falls, helping seniors remain independent during everyday activities, and can also reduce pain caused by lower back issues and arthritis.

Don’t worry, developing better balance can be done in the privacy of your home (without relying on someone else’s busy schedule).

They can supplement geriatric physical therapy exercises as well.

This is where simple balance exercises really shine.

In fact, the US Guidelines for Physical Activity points out that any physical activity can produce benefits — even less than 10 minutes at a time! (1)

Although physical fitness can benefit everyone, this exercise program isn’t a substitute for professional medical advice. 

When in doubt, contact your doctor or physical therapist for specific physical activity guidelines.

7 Balance Exercises for Seniors

Best balance exercises for seniors

1. Squat 

The squat is the champion of lower body exercises. 

It highlights all of the major lower body muscles while challenging core strength at the same time — which is why they aren’t just for bodybuilders!

An incredible balance training exercise, they burn more calories than isolation exercises, promote bone strengthening in high-risk areas (such as the hip joint), and strengthen the muscles your body relies on for fall prevention.

Whether building better balance for getting up off the couch or using the bathroom, squats can help.

  • Stand with upright posture and feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Hold your arms straight ahead for balance, tighten your core muscles, and engage the glutes (buttocks).
  • Push your hips back, as if sitting in a chair, while lowering your body.
  • Simultaneously bend your knees while ensuring that they (a) don’t meet in the middle (push them outward rather than letting them come inward) and (b) that they don’t travel forward past your toes.
  • Keeping an upright torso, stop lowering yourself if the move becomes too challenging or once you have reached a 90-degree angle knee bend.
  • Stand back up, making sure not to let your knees meet in the middle, and repeat.

If you aren’t ready to start with the full bodyweight squat, a modification includes a supported squat by using the back of a chair or sturdy piece of furniture for extra support and fall prevention.

Start with 3 sets of 5 repetitions and work up from there (3 sets of 10, 3 sets of 15, etc.), with a 15-second break between sets.

2. Standing Hip Adduction

The standing hip adduction targets each leg simultaneously but separately, making it one of the best dynamic balance exercises for fall prevention.

Your right leg braces the movement working the gluteus medius, a muscle that supports the lower back.

Your left leg performs the motion strengthening the inner thigh (don’t forget to switch to evenly focus on the opposite leg).

This is one of the best balance exercises for elderly seniors because it asks one leg to coordinate all of the balance, similar to the movement used while walking.

  • Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart.
  • Brace your right leg by locking the knee and engaging the glute (buttock) on that side, your right foot securely planted on the floor.
  • Straighten the left leg and lift the left foot an inch or two off the ground in front of your position.
  • Keeping the knee straight, squeeze the left leg toward the right leg. Since the left foot is raised a couple of inches off the floor, you will be able to bring the left leg past your body’s center point a couple of inches.
  • Squeeze your thighs and glutes before relaxing the left leg back to the starting point, and repeat. Don’t forget to switch to the opposite leg for the second half of the set.

Modifications include using the back of a chair or sturdy piece of furniture for extra support and fall prevention.

Start with 3 sets of 5 repetitions on each side and work up from there (3 sets of 10, 3 sets of 15, etc.), with a 15-second break between sets.

3. Heel-to-Toe Walk

The heel-to-toe walk looks like a simple exercise — but don’t be fooled! 

Any balance problems will be identified because this motion requires direct coordination between the muscular and vestibular (balance) systems.

Your vision also contributes, so gaze forward at a spot on the wall while performing the exercise.

This balance exercise can build the coordination needed to save the day, especially during everyday activities with a high risk of falls (like showering or getting up during the night).

  • Stand upright with feet shoulder-width apart and arms stretched straight out to the sides for balance (think tightrope walker on this one).
  • Gaze straight ahead (it can help to pick a spot on the wall in front of you), tighten the tummy, and take one step forward with your right foot.
  • Prevent leaning to maintain an upright position and place your left heel in front of your right toes. Both feet should make a straight line ahead (keeping your center of gravity as if on a tightrope).
  • Repeat this movement by bringing the right heel in front of your left toes, and repeat (left foot, right foot, left foot, etc.).

If it is too challenging, perform the movement next to a railing or firm surface to reduce the risk of falls.

Start with 4-5 steps in one direction, turn around, and return to where you started. Walk farther as you build endurance.

4. March In Place

Marching in place is another dynamic balance exercise fundamental to balance training.

One foot is planted while the other side is in motion, challenging the center of gravity, and promoting a strong core. 

Marching also helps eliminate a major balance problem in seniors: tripping. 

It strengthens the hip flexor to better lift the foot off the ground, over obstacles, and up stairs.

  • Stand with torso upright, feet shoulder-width apart, and palms in toward your body.
  • Lift your right knee up toward the ceiling while simultaneously pumping the left hand up for balance (think a running motion).
  • Lower the left hand and right leg to the starting position, and repeat with the opposite side (left knee and right hand), as if marching.

If this exercise is too challenging to start with, use a sturdy piece of furniture for hand support (just performing the lower body part of the movement).

Start with 3 sets of 5 repetitions on each side and work up from there (3 sets of 10, 3 sets of 15, etc.), with a 15-second break between sets.

5. Heel Raises

Heel raises are all about one thing: strength training the lower leg (the calf, ankle, and foot). 

This improves better balance and the ability to propel yourself during movements, big or small.

The good news is this is especially helpful in fall prevention. 

The calf muscles can kick into gear quickly when off of your center of gravity!

  • The start position is to stand upright, gaze forward, with your feet hip-width apart.
  • Raise your heels off the ground, standing on your tippy-toes.
  • Hold for 1-3 seconds before returning your heels back to the floor, and repeat.

If this movement is too challenging to start with, do it seated instead.

While seated on a firm surface or sturdy piece of furniture, feet flat on the floor, raise your heels off the ground. 

Hold for 1-3 seconds, let them back down, and repeat.

Start with 3 sets of 5 repetitions and work up from there (3 sets of 10, 3 sets of 15, etc.), with a 15-second break between sets.

6. Calf Stretch

A strength training exercise (like heel raises) can build ankle strength, but the calf stretch is the best way to promote ankle flexibility.

According to Harvard Health, “Ankle stiffness can do a number on your mobility.” (2)

To make things worse, seniors tend to sit more as they age causing tight calf muscles. 

Well, this makes the calf stretch an essential senior exercise for better balance!

  • Stand with good posture a foot or two in front of a firm surface or sturdy piece of furniture with your feet hip-width apart.
  • Brace your hands against the surface for support and lean forward keeping your heels in contact with the floor.
  • Keep your knees completely straight throughout the movement. Lean into the stretch but not so much to make it uncomfortable — it should feel good!

If this is too challenging to start with, stand with a firm surface like a countertop directly in front of you for hand support. 

Stand with feet hip-width apart, knees locked straight, and lean into the counter just an inch or two.

Start with 10-second holds on each side and move up to 30-60 second holds as you are able.

7. Lunges

If the squat is the king of lower body exercises, the lunge is the king of lower-body dynamic balance exercises for seniors! 

The lunge focuses the lower body muscles and hip joints while adding the challenge of resisting torso rotation to build better balance and core strength.

More challenging than the march or heel raise, the lunge is a strength training exercise that also promotes better balance.

  • The starting position is hands-on-hips, feet shoulder-width apart, and one knee dropped to the ground. This knee should be supporting the body’s positioning directly under the shoulder, creating a straight line from knee to shoulder, and the rear toe planted.
  • The opposite leg should be out front with a 90-degree bend in the knee.
  • Breathe out, push evenly through the front foot, and raise your body upward. Work to keep good balance by maintaining an upright torso (and resist leaning toward the sides of your body).
  • Once the front leg is straight, breathe in while lowering your body back down to the supporting knee and repeat.

If this exercise is too challenging for older adults, to begin with, perform the movement partially while using a firm surface or sturdy piece of furniture for hand support. 

(Just practicing getting into position for this exercise will promote better balance.)

Start with 3 sets of 5 repetitions on each side and work up from there (3 sets of 10, 3 sets of 15, etc.), with a 15-second break between sets.

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Final Take

Feeling like a burden is the last thing any older adult wants…

But weak overall health and poor balance in seniors is a recipe for disaster.

The good news is that there’s no need to develop an entire balance program — starting small counts!

According to Harvard Health, “Any duration [of physical activity] is fine, and the focus should be on consistency.” (3)

Pick one balance exercise one day a week to start, and build up to two and then three days a week as you increase your balance skills.

You’ll find getting started wasn’t that hard after all.

Exercises for balance will give you more confidence with everyday activities.

Exercising feels great and can reduce pain, too — a real win-win!

Remember when you felt like a burden to those around you? Neither do they. Keep it up!

References

  1. “Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd Addition.” Health.gov, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2018, health.gov/sites/default/files/2019-09/Physical_Activity_Guidelines_2nd_edition.pdf.
  2. “Stay Active, Even with Stiff Ankles.” Harvard Health, Harvard Health Publishing, 1 Apr. 2019, www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/stay-active-even-with-stiff-ankles.
  3. “New Exercise Guidelines Suggest Older Adults Try a Variety of Activities.” Harvard Health, Harvard Health Publishing, 1 Mar. 2019, www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/new-exercise-guidelines-suggest-older-adults-try-a-variety-of-activities.

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