By Glenn Baja

Many older adults suffer from balance problems, and falls are one of the leading causes of injury and death among seniors. Even healthy older adults experience less secure balance than in their younger years – but this doesn’t mean you can’t improve balance! Here are the 6 best balance exercises for older adults that will help you live an active life well into your senior years.

What Causes Balance Problems?

Balance problems can be caused by:

  • Inner ear problems, including vertigo
  • Numbness in the feet and legs (neuropathy) which can be due to diabetes or nerve damage from old injuries
  • Eye problems including cataracts, macular degeneration, glaucoma, or diabetic retinopathy
  • Arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis
  • Heart or other cardiovascular problems
  • Nervous system disease (MS, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s)
  • Taking multiple medications
  • Muscle imbalance and/or weakness (for example, people who sit too much tend to develop muscle weakness that affects balance).

6 Best Balance Exercises

You can do these exercises every day to improve your balance. Balance, flexibility, coordination and strength work together to keep you upright and mobile. You need to improve all four to see positive results in your balance.

  1. One-legged stance

This is a great starting point for people with fairly severe balance issues.

  • Start by holding on to a sturdy chair or table.
  • Lift your right foot as high as you can, while balancing on the left foot.
  • Let go of your support while keeping your eyes straight ahead.
  • Hold for as long as you can, then gently lower your elevated foot and switch feet.

Once you can hold each pose for a minute, add these variations. Always keep your hand close to your support in case you feel wobbly:

  • Pivot your body to the left and right while balancing on one leg
  • Make small circles with the elevated leg
  • At the same time you raise your right leg, raise your left arm; and vice-versa
  • Slightly bend your standing knee while your other leg is elevated
  • Looking around (instead of fixating your gaze ahead of you) without moving your head, while balancing one-legged
  • Looking around while turning your neck, while balancing one-legged
  1. Sit on a balance ball

sitting on a yoga ball

Image via Pro Body Pilates

Simply sitting on an exercise ball or balance ball (one of those giant balls you see at the gym) tones your core muscles and restores balance. Balance balls are cheap (about $15), come in various sizes, and can be used for a variety of exercises. They are wonderful replacements for chairs if you sit a lot because they engage your core muscles and promote balance and posture the entire time you’re sitting!

  • Place two chairs about 3’ apart with the seats facing each other (NOT the backs) and place your balance ball between them.
  • Stand in front of the ball with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • With one hand supporting yourself on a chair, gently sit on the balance ball, holding on to it with your non-supporting hand so it doesn’t roll away.
  • Remove your hand from the support.
  • Once you are comfortable sitting, lift your arms out to the sides, to shoulder height.
  • With your arms out to the sides, slowly pivot left to right as far as you can go. If you ever need to grab on to your support chairs, you have one on either side!
  1. Flexibility exercises

Touching your toes, reaching for the sky, and doing side-bends will help restore flexibility and balance, and strengthen your core muscles, which are essential for balance and agility.

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, arms at your side.
  • Slowly touch your toes; you can have a slight bend in your knees if you aren’t flexible enough to touch your toes. Hold for a few seconds and slowly return to standing with your arms at your sides.
  • Repeat 5 times.
  • Lift both arms above you, and slowly do a side bend, keeping your stomach muscles tight. Only go as far as you can comfortably go without losing your balance. Hold for a few seconds and slowly return to standing with your arms at your sides.
  • Repeat 5 times.
  • Lift both arms to the sky, stretching your arms and torso as high as you can. Hold for a few seconds and slowly return to standing with your arms at your sides.
  • Repeat 5 times.
  1. Heel lifts

heel lifts

Image via Popsugar

Standing on your tiptoes will help improve balance as well as build leg and core strength.

  • Start by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart
  • Holding on to something for support, lift your heels as high as you can.
  • Hold for a count of 10 and slowly lower your heels to the ground.
  • Repeat five times.
  • Next, move your feet closer together, so they are no more than one inch apart.
  • Holding on to the support, lift your heels as high as you can.
  • Hold for a count of 10 and slowly lower your heels to the ground.

Advanced moves:

  • While on your tiptoes, remove your hand from the support (keeping it close).
  • Once you can do that, do the entire raising-holding-lowering movement without holding on to the support (keep your hand close to it)
  • Try one-legged heel lifts while holding on to your support, and keeping your other leg relaxed
  • You can also pivot your body left and right while on your tiptoes (holding on to your support).
  1. Water Aerobics (or Aquatic Exercises)

Anything you do in the pool, from walking, to jogging in place, to jumping up and down, one-legged balancing (especially tricky if there are other people in the pool making currents), or running, will help you build balance confidently. The bonus? Added water resistance tones your body while building balance!

  1. Stand on a stability disc

Only do standing stability disc exercises if you have mild balance problems or once you’ve worked up to better stability using the above exercises.

A stability disc isn’t shaped like a ball, it’s more like a jelly-filled donut that you stand on to develop balance, coordination, and strength. They are inexpensive (as little as $10), compact, and give you an amazing balance and core strength workout.

The following is a more advanced balance exercise that you should only attempt once you’ve become comfortable doing all of the exercises described above.

  • Holding on to something sturdy, place one foot on the disc, just to the side of the center.
  • Slowly, still holding on to your support, put your weight on the disc.
  • Try to keep your eyes ahead of you, on a fixed point.
  • Put your other foot on the disc without looking down (balancing is easier with eyes ahead).
  • Once both feet are on the disc, simply stand on it as you would stand on the floor. It will wobble some, and that’s the whole point: the constant movement immediately engages all of your muscles for a surprisingly effective balance and strength workout!
  • Once you feel stable while holding on, remove your hand from the support (but keep it close). When you’re comfortable with this, add these variations:
    • Make small arm circles with your non-supportive hand
    • Pivot your body left and right while balancing on the disc

More advanced stability disc exercises include:

  • Leg lifts: one leg standing on the disc while you lift the other to the front then back to center, to the side and back to center, to the rear and back to center.
  • Step-ups: simply getting on and off the disc repeatedly is a quick way to improve balance, coordination and strength.

Bonus exercise: Use your opposite hand

This is not really an “exercise” but rather brain training that helps you build new neural connections in the brain and retrain your body to be more balanced.

It simply involves using your non-dominant hand to do things you normally do with your dominant hand: brushing your teeth is weird at first but within a month you’ll be ambidextrous at it. The same goes for pouring yourself a glass of water, or eating, brushing/combing your hair, petting the dog, carrying groceries, vacuuming, or any daily task you tend to do one-handed.

Not only will you become more ambidextrous and create better balance, but you will also strengthen your non-dominant hand and arm for better musculoskeletal balance!

Start Slow!

Your brain is amazing, and you can retrain yourself to have better balance by using these balance exercises for older adults.

It’s important to start slowly, build your confidence, and master a particular exercise before moving on to the more advanced versions. Give your brain a chance to rewire itself for balance. And while you’re doing that, you’ll also be building strength, flexibility and coordination. Good luck!

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