Having a good sense of balance isn’t just for gymnasts: It’s crucial for performing everyday tasks like standing up, walking, and using the stairs.
Our sense of balance can deteriorate as we age, but incorporating some simple exercises into your daily routine can help you feel more confident.
Why Balance is Important for Older Adults
At its simplest, balance is your ability to control your body and remain stable in whatever position you choose - especially when standing up or walking. It’s one of the core types of exercise, together with strength, endurance, and flexibility.
Good balance can prevent falls, one of the leading causes of injury for adults over 65 each year. It can also provide you with the ability to stay mobile, navigate uneven terrain, and go about your daily activities with confidence.
Many factors can cause a reduction in balance for older adults, including vision problems, reduced lower-body and core strength, medications, and issues with the feet.
How Do I Improve My Balance?
Balance goes hand in hand with overall health. In fact, the CDC recommends that adults over age 65 incorporate physical activity that includes balance training into their overall weekly activity. Balance exercises can help make everyday life easier and safer by improving your stability when standing or moving. They can even help to improve cognitive functions.
Besides activities that you may traditionally think of (such as walking heel-to-toe in a straight line), activities that strengthen the back, core muscles, and leg muscles also improve balance.
Many balance exercises are simple and can be done throughout the day, wherever you are. Try setting aside a few minutes at a time to complete them. Over time, you’ll begin to notice an improvement not just in your ability to complete the exercises, but in their effect on your daily activities.
3 Balance Exercises for Seniors
As you begin balance training, you might notice that one side of your body is stronger or more dominant, than the other. Usually, it is the same side as your dominant hand. Doing the exercises on both sides of your body can help strengthen muscles and promote balance.
Here are three simple exercises you can try for improved balance.
Start with your feet shoulder-width apart. Next, slowly bend your knees and lower your body as far as is comfortable - picture yourself sitting down on a chair. You can also place your hands on a table or countertop if you need extra support. Hold the lowered position for a few seconds, then slowly raise back up.
Try to keep your knees from extending over your toes and place the most weight in your heels. Repeat this exercise up to 10 times.
This movement is simple to do anywhere - while doing chores, waiting in line, or watching television. First, stand with your legs shoulder-width apart and rise up on your toes, so your heels come off the ground. Hold the position for up to 10 seconds, or as long as you can, then slowly lower back down.
As with squats, you can steady yourself by placing your hands on a counter or against the wall. Repeat this exercise five to 10 times.
Stand up straight and place your hands on your hips or a tabletop for stability. Slowly raise one foot straight out in front of you, anywhere from six to 12 inches off the floor. Hold this position, looking straight ahead, for 20 to 30 seconds. Then, slowly lower your foot, and repeat on the other side.
Work each leg three to five times. This exercise can also be done laterally by raising each leg straight out to your side and following the same procedure.
Other Tips for Improving Balance
You can improve your balance in other ways besides doing dedicated exercises. For example, consider some of the following suggestions from Harvard Health (you may already be doing some of them!):
- Going on walks, biking, or climbing stairs are everyday actions that work your muscles, improve your cardio, and boost your balance. An excellent indoor option is a recumbent or stationary bike.
- Stretching programs help keep muscles limber and flexible, improving posture and balance.
As you become more confident, you can also add an extra challenge to your balance exercises by changing the position of your arms, closing one eye, or looking in different directions as you perform the movement.