Balance Exercises for Seniors

8 Balance Exercises for Seniors


Medically reviewed by Misty Seidenburg

The older population in the U.S. has steadily increased over the past century, and that shift has become even more accelerated in recent years. In 2020, one in six people were age 65+, compared to one in 20 in the year 1920. As we consider the health and wellness needs of aging adults, it is clear that physical therapists play an important role in helping seniors remain active and independent for as long as possible. Balance and fall prevention are a few of the ways we combat the effects of aging in the clinic and at home. Read on for safe and effective balance exercises for seniors to improve stability and help prevent falls and injuries.

Understanding the Risk of Falls Among Older Adults

According to the National Council on Aging, falls are the leading cause of injuries among Americans ages 65 and up, with one in four adults falling each year. The risk of falls increases the older we get due to the many physiological changes that come with aging.

Hearing, vision, and reflexes are not as sharp as they once were. Age-related muscle loss can affect gait and stability. Some medications also cause dizziness and confusion that can make a person more unsteady on their feet.

It is essential to be proactive about improving balance and stability at any age, but especially as you enter the golden years. Fall injuries among the elderly can often be quite serious. Broken bones and head injuries are the most common and may require surgery, hospitalization, and extensive rehabilitation therapy.

How Does Exercise Improve Balance?

Balance is the ability to maintain one’s center of gravity, or stand up or move without falling over. Our body’s visual, vestibular (inner ear), and proprioception (muscles and joints) systems work in concert to provide a sense of balance. Age-related deficiencies impact how these systems function. Exercise helps to combat these changes.

Exercise helps to improve balance and prevent falls by:

  • Building muscular strength: Strengthening the muscles used for balance helps to ease stress on painful joints.
  • Enhancing coordination: Exercise helps to improve the connections between the mind and body that are required to control the muscles that maintain balance.
  • Improving body awareness: Exercise sharpens the brain and body’s awareness of where the body is in space and how it moves around objects and people.
  • Increasing reaction time: Physical activity helps the body and mind respond to hazards more quickly to avoid or recover from a fall.

Exercise is just as important for mental and emotional wellness as it is for physical health. Seniors who are afraid of falling are less likely to venture out and be active, leading to depression and anxiety. But physical activity releases those feel-good endorphins that help to boost moods.

So what are you waiting for? Let’s get moving!

How to Improve Balance for Seniors: 8 Exercises You Can Do at Home

The National Institute on Aging (NIA) specifically recommends balance and strength training to help seniors build muscle and improve stability.

It’s important to note that some balance exercises can be challenging. Always check with your healthcare provider to ensure they are safe for you and you are cleared for activity.

Try these safe and simple moves to improve your balance, strength, and stamina right in the comfort of your own home. All you need is a chair, comfortable clothing, and sturdy athletic shoes. It’s best to perform these moves near a wall in case you need to steady .

1. Weight-Shifts

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart, with your arms hanging down at your side.
  • Shift your weight to your left side and lift your right foot a few inches off the floor.
  • Hold this position as long as possible, up to 30 seconds.
  • Place your right foot on the ground and repeat on the other side.
  • Repeat 10-15 times on each leg.

2. Knee Curls

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart, and place your hands on your hips.
  • Lift your right leg off the floor and bend it back at the knee.
  • Hold this position for as long as you can, up to 30 seconds.
  • Return to the starting position and repeat on the other side.
  • If you are just starting out, you can hold on the back of a chair or other stable surface for added stability.
  • Repeat 10-15 times on each leg.

3. Toe-Raises

  • Stand up straight and place your hands on the back of a chair for support.
  • Life your heels up so you are resting on the balls of your feet. Hold that position and count to 10.
  • Place your heels back down on the ground.
  • Repeat 10-15 times.

4. Foot Taps

  • Stand facing a step with your feet hip-width apart.
  • Slowly raise your right foot to tap the step in front of you and place it back on the floor.
  • Now, do the same with your left foot.
  • Repeat 10-15 times on each leg.

5. Sit-to-Stand

  • Begin in a seated position with your arms outstretched in front of you.
  • Lean your chest forward and slowly stand up with control.
  • Slowly sit back down, again, with control.
  • Try to do this without using your hands or your momentum.
  • Repeat 10-15 times.

6. Leg Extensions

  • Begin in a seated position with your feet on the floor.
  • Straighten your right leg out in front of you, extending as far as is comfortable.
  • Slowly lower that leg back down to the floor.
  • Repeat 10-15 times on each leg.

 7.Heel-to-Toe Walk

  • Stand up straight parallel with the wall.
  • Take your right foot and place it directly in front of your left, touching the heel and toe.
  • Slowly raise your arms out to the sides until they are at shoulder height. This will help with balance.
  • Take 20 steps. Turn around and repeat.

8. Head Rotations

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart with your hands at your side.
  • Slowly turn your head from side to side and then up and down, keeping the rest of your body as still as possible.
  • Do this for 20 seconds and repeat.
  • Slow down if you start to feel dizzy. Stop if dizziness continues.

As you progress, you can make balance exercises more challenging by closing your eyes, holding the position for longer or letting go of the chair or whatever you are using for support.

How Often Should I Exercise?

For best results, do these exercises three to five times per week. A note of caution: always check with your healthcare provider and physical therapist before starting any exercise program. It’s important to assess your fall risk and make sure these movements are safe for you. Modifications may be recommended.

Good News for Seniors About Fall Prevention

If you have noticed you’re a bit more unsteady on your feet than you used to be, there are steps you can take to prevent falls. Studies show that exercise makes a difference. Seniors who regularly performed balance, functional, and resistance exercises saw their fall risk drop by 28%.

Are you interested in learning more about balance and fall prevention and the many other benefits of geriatric physical therapy? Find a clinic near you.

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Medically reviewed by

Misty Seidenburg

Vice President of Clinical Programs

Dr. Misty Seidenburg has been a practicing physical therapist since 2006 after obtaining her Doctor of Physical Therapy Degree from Gannon University. Dr. Seidenburg completed an Orthopedic Residency in 2009 and subsequent Spine Fellowship in 2010 where she discovered a passion for educating clinicians. Since 2019, she has developed and refined several post-professional residency and fellowship programs and currently serves as the Vice President of Clinical Programs for Upstream Rehab Institute. She serves on several APTA committees to help advance the profession, is adjunct faculty at Messiah University, and is also a senior instructor and course developer for the Institute of Advanced Musculoskeletal Treatments with a special interest in exercise integration. Outside of work, she enjoys challenging herself with new adventures and is currently competing as an endurance athlete.

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