6 Amazing Exercises to Improve Balance in Seniorsby Reading 3 Min
While many of us bounce back from a fall, this isn’t always the case among the elderly. According to statistics, one out of every five falls among older adults leads to severe injury that requires treatment or surgery.
The risk of falling increases with age-related issues, such as declining vision and poor mobility and coordination. The repercussions of falling are higher in the elderly due to deteriorating bone density and the longer time their bodies take to heal.
The good news is that you can primarily prevent falls and also take certain precautions to lessen the impact in case of a fall. There are various fall prevention strategies you can follow, and an increasingly popular one is to incorporate balance activities for the elderly as part of their daily routine. These activities help reduce the risk of life-changing falls among the elderly.
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Why do seniors need to improve their balance?
There are a number of factors that can increase a senior’s risk of fall-related injuries. With age comes a range of mobility issues as well as declining muscular and skeletal strength. Here are some additional factors that may put the elderly at risk –
- Declining or impaired vision
- Poor joint flexibility
- Sarcopenia (loss of muscle mass)
These factors, however, don’t mean that the elderly can’t take steps to improve their mobility and balance through stability exercises. These not only improve balance and prevent falls but also increase overall well-being, strengthen joints and reduce the risk of fractures. By taking steps to stay safe, seniors can stay independent longer and maybe even hold off on or escape the use of mobility devices, such as walkers or canes.
Research shows that older adults who stay active and exercise regularly have lesser chances of falling. While balance and strength exercises, in addition to resistance training, seemed to be the most effective, even moderate cardiovascular exercises proved to be effective in fall prevention. However, there are simple exercises seniors can perform at home that will benefit them immensely.
6 Exercises to Improve Balance in Seniors
We’ve put together six exercises for the elderly to improve balance and enhance muscle strength and stability.
1. Sit-to-stand or chair squats
This exercise helps strengthen the knees while improving hip stability and increasing leg muscle mass. Start by seating yourself towards the edge of a chair, keeping your back straight. Ensure your feet are firmly planted on the ground with your toes pointing forward and slightly out. For balance, keep your hands comfortably stretched out in front. Slowly, stand up till your legs are straight. Finish by lowering yourself back to the seat. Repeat this cycle several times or as many times as you feel comfortable.
2. Heel-to-toe raises
Begin by standing hip-width apart behind a chair. Lift your heels off the floor and raise yourself on your toes while taking support on the balls of your feet. Then lower your heels back to the ground. Repeat this process several times to feel the benefit in your knees and ankles.
3. Heel-to-toe or tightrope
Visualization helps with this one. Imagine you’re walking a circus tightrope. Facing forwards with arms straight on the sides, place one foot in front of the other. Aim to walk in a straight line for as long as possible and with breaks in between. This exercise improves balance, coordination as well as core strength.
4. Foot raises or marching
Start by standing with your feet together. You may use a chair for support by holding on to it. Lift one leg off the floor and stand on the other for about 10 seconds. Then place the foot down and lift the other foot to repeat the process. You may lift your feet as high as you are comfortable. This exercise improves balance, coordination, and leg strength.
5. Side leg raises
This exercise improves leg strength and balance. Start by standing behind a chair for support, facing forwards. Slowly lift one leg to the side, hold it in the air for about 10-15 seconds, then slowly lower it
back to the ground. Repeat this on the other leg and keep alternating between legs for as long as you are comfortable.
6. Walking sideways
This activity includes taking steps sideways to your right then to your left, letting your feet meet after each step. This stance helps with improving balance. Repeat this process for as long as you are comfortable.
A few exercise tips for seniors:
How to further improve balance in seniors?
In addition to these balance exercises for seniors, there are a number of other things you can do to improve overall balance and prevent falls.
1. Get involved in balance improving activities, such as Tai Chi, yoga, or dancing
A consistent lifestyle change is a key to staying strong and well-coordinated. A good idea is to enroll yourself in a Tai Chi, yoga, or dance class that you may enjoy being a part of. These are three proven activities that improve balance and mobility in seniors and come with a range of other benefits, including weight loss, stronger muscles, better alertness, and of course, an opportunity to meet other seniors and socialize.
2. Assess your living space and remove fall hazards in and outside the home
Survey your loved one’s home or living space and get rid of any tripping hazards, such as loose rugs and carpets, unnecessary bric-a-brac stored in narrow hallways, electrical cords, and gardening equipment in the yard. Consider a bathroom overhaul by using anti-slip tiles and reposition cabinets at accessible places.
3. Install assistance devices such as grab bars, railings, or mobility aids
Installing stability aids such as bed step stools, sturdy railings along staircases, and grab bars in the bathroom gives you that extra peace of mind. These products are a great investment in helping the elderly make their way in and out of the bed and bathtub safely and easily.
4. Wear suitable footwear
It’s so important to wear the right pair of shoes, especially for the elderly who may have issues while walking. Getting professional advice on what shoes work the best for your loved one is worth the investment. In addition to this, avoid flip-flops or loose sandals that encourage a shuffling gait that’s bad for balance.
5. Try resistance training
Research has shown that resistance training has a range of benefits for the elderly, including gained muscle mass, improved balance and coordination, preserved bone density, and even reduced risk of chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
6. Improve home lighting
Seniors are more prone to visual impairment, especially low-light vision, due to several age-related factors, and this can come in the way of their safety. It’s recommended to keep rooms well lit, install motion sensor lighting throughout the house, and keep switches at accessible places.
Although the risk of falls is higher among the elderly, you can take measures on all fronts to prevent severe injury. Making small lifestyle changes, removing trip hazards, wearing the right footwear, installing useful mobility aids in the house as well as performing exercises to improve balance in seniors are all effective ways to prevent life-altering falls that can be devastating.
However, it’s important not to get overwhelmed by all the fall-prevention strategies out there but to take things one step at a time. Just a few changes, to begin with, can make a world of difference and aging an enjoyable experience.
Vince Baiera is the founder of step2health, a mobility aids and wellness company for older adults. He is a former ICU Nurse of the Cleveland Clinic and Duke University Hospital in the Cardiac ICU. With years of working on the frontlines, Vince noticed the struggles of older adults and people with mobility issues that became an impediment for both patients and their caretakers. He then designed and created the patented product, Step2Bed (and its variants) that helps seniors and those with mobility issues safely get in and out of bed. His philosophy concerning aging is to plan ahead and start with simple home and life modifications to avoid being overwhelmed at retirement.