Rocky Jorgensen, a Care Team Manager at our Central District and Renton, WA practices discusses exercises you can incorporate to boost your balance and help prevent injuries.
Balance is one of the most important physical skills that people must work on as they age. As our bodies get older, balance, mobility and flexibility naturally decline. This loss of balance can be dangerous and can contribute to slips and falls. Luckily, there are exercises you can do to boost your balance and help prevent injuries. These are simple, easy-to-do movements that you can do from home with minimal equipment needed.
Here are the nine best balance exercises for seniors:
1. Balance Walk
This is an exercise that you can easily do in your home or outside on the sidewalk. First, make sure you have an area of about 20 or 30 feet where you can walk without items in your way. Raise your arms out to the sides in a T-shape, making sure you are well balanced at the start of the exercise. Then, pick out a spot at the end of that unobstructed area, and walk towards that area, staying focused on the end point. As you walk with one foot in front of the other, be sure you take a one-second pause between when your back leg picks up and your front leg hits the ground (keep your weight on your back leg while hovering your front leg in the air) - again, making sure to stay focused on that endpoint the entire time. Try doing this helpful exercise once a day for two or three repetitions.
2. Step Ups
For this exercise, you'll need either a step (one in your staircase will work) or a step-sized piece of small furniture or exercise equipment. It is also essential - at least at the start of your work with this exercise - to have something sturdy in front of you to help with your balance. The railing of the staircase, a wall, or an average-sized counter-top will work well. Once you're set up, stand balanced in front of the step with your legs only slightly spread apart and slowly bring one foot up to touch the step. Bring that foot down and repeat on the other side. Try to start with doing ten repetitions on each foot while holding your arms on an object to stabilize yourself. As you keep doing these exercises, try increasing the repetitions, and work up to doing them without any need to hold on to any stabilizing objects.
3. Toe Lifts
This simple workout needs the aid of a counter-top or a sturdy chair. Position yourself in front of the counter or the chair about an arm's length away. Position your feet hip-length apart. Slowly stand on your toes, keeping your back straight and your arms steady, and then lower yourself down. Repeat this exercise ten times. As you get more practiced with it, continue to increase the number of lifts you do.
4. Leg Raises
These are a superb way to boost balance throughout your core, along with increasing strength through the hips, legs, and quad muscles. You'll need the help of a counter-top or a chair for this exercise. Position yourself in front of the chair or counter-top in a clear area with plenty of space on both sides and solid ground to stand on. Stand straight, focus straight ahead, and be sure to set your feet hip-width apart. Move one leg directly up into the air off to the side and return your leg to standing position before you do the same movement on the other side.
5. One-leg Stand
This balance exercise is relatively self-explanatory. Stand in front of a chair or a counter-top on steady ground. Make sure you have a watch, oven timer, or some other countdown clock nearby (or count down in your head). Steady yourself on the back of the chair or the counter and raise one leg into the air, bending at the knee, with the bottom part of the leg bent back. Hold that position for 30 seconds, put your foot back down, and repeat on the other side. As you get better at the exercise, try doing it without holding on to the counter or chair. Learn about more chair exercises.
6. Arm and Leg Raise
The arm and leg raise will help to improve balance and strength in both limbs. Position a chair to one side of your body and build a steady stance by holding onto it with your non-active arm. On the other side of the body, slowly raise that arm into the air. Then - while maintaining stability - raise your knee on that side of the body up into the air. Try holding that position for 30 seconds, and then repeat on the other side. Try doing this exercise for a couple of minutes in total, alternating knees every 30 seconds.
7. Modified Shoulder Twist Walks
Clear an area where you can walk unobstructed for about 10 to 20 feet. Stand at the start of this area and turn your head towards the left or right shoulder. Maintain that gaze as you walk forward through that area. Once you have reached the end point, turn to the other side, and repeat. Try doing five to ten repetitions on each side of your body.
8. Heel-to-Toe Tightrope Walk
Don't worry, there are no actual tightropes here. However, you'll be walking as you would on a tightrope - just on solid ground. Find a hallway where you can stabilize yourself with one arm against the wall. Walk forward on the length of the hallway, taking care to place one foot directly in front of the other with the heel of one shoe touching the toe of the other. When you come to the end, turn and repeat. Try doing this for five to ten repetitions.
9. Track Your Eye
This exercise is a great way to improve your balance - and all you need is your thumb. Stand up straight and tall and place one hand directly in front of your face. Make a thumbs-up and focus your eyes directly on the nail of your thumb. Slowly move your fist first side to side and then up and down, tracking the nail of your thumb with your eyes the entire time. If you feel dizzy at any time, stop immediately.
Be sure to check in with a physician before you start any exercise regimen. If any of these exercises cause any pain or discomfort, be sure to pull back, modify as necessary, or try a different movement. With any exercise, it's essential to know your limits to avoid injury. For more tips on how to stay safe and avoid the dangers of slips and falls, be sure to look at our fall prevention post.
At One Medical Seniors, we work with you to come up with a plan to meet your health goals. Find a local practice near you and request a class calendar!
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