The risk of falling is a very serious health concern for seniors. With complications from a fall being the leading cause of injury death for those over 65, the stakes couldn’t be higher. Seniors experience more falls than the rest of the adult population due to diminishing balance. The number one way to limit your risk of a fall is to stay active. Moderate daily exercise, with a focus on balance improving activities, will help keep you feeling great and independent.
Balance Improving Exercises for Seniors
1. Heel to Toe Walking – simple, and yet beneficial, heel to toe walking helps strengthen balance. Often used by law enforcement as a field sobriety test, this easy exercise is also a great way for seniors to build greater balance. a. Start by placing the heel of your right foot in front of your left toes. b. Then bring your left heel in front of your right toes. c. Repeat, walking in a straight line.
2. Standing on One Foot – this exercise is a fantastic way to increase balance. Start slowly, using a kitchen counter or chair back to help steady you. As your balance increases, leave your hand by your sides, or even raise them over your head. a. Place your hands on a chair back or counter as you raise one foot off the floor. b. Once balance in acquired, try lifting your hands off your support and hold for 15 – 20 seconds. c. Repeat with the other leg.
3. Knee Lifts – this exercise will help improve balance, as well as strengthen leg muscles. Decreased muscle strength in the legs is a major contributor to lessened mobility and balance in seniors. This exercise will help make your legs stronger – giving you greater confidence and balance. a. Hold onto a counter or chair back to steady yourself, and then raise one knee up and hold it at about waist level. b. One you feel balanced, let go of your support and hold your knee up for 15 – 20 seconds. c. Repeat with the other knee.
4. Back/Side Leg Raises – these exercises help strengthen your backside, lower back, and hips. Improved muscle quality will also improve balance. a. Hold onto the chair back of a tall heavy chair. Lift one leg and extend it behind you – a couple of inches to a foot off the floor. b. Hold your foot up for 10 – 15 seconds. c. Repeat on your other leg. d. Follow the same process for side leg raises – this time extending your leg to the side of your body.
5. Stepping – practicing stepping over objects increases balance and mimics real life situations like curbs and stairs. a. In a straight line across the floor, space small objects (foam cubes, books, or even soup cans) 12 – 16 inches apart. b. Carefully step over each object, extending your arms out for additional balance. c. Increase the difficulty of this exercise by sidestepping over the objects.
For all of these exercises, it is very important to put safety first. If you feel uncomfortable about your balance or with the exercises, stop and sit down. Check with your doctor to ensure that these exercises will not aggravate a condition or health concern you already have. Use a counter or chair to help steady yourself until you feel confident with the exercises.