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Lifestyle & General Interest

7 Best Balance Exercises for Older Adults To Improve Stability


Mobility issues can limit the activity options for older adults. For example, a lack of balance can make it difficult to engage in activities outside the home. Poor stability when walking can even be dangerous for older adults. Each year, there are three million emergency-room visits due to falls, and 800,000 of these patients have to be hospitalized due to hip or head fractures.

This is a significant challenge for older adults. Social events are important for reducing loneliness, but movement and balance problems can make such activities difficult and dangerous. While steps like arranging home healthcare can give people the ability to age in place safely, balance and stability remain essential for ensuring the best possible quality of life.

Here is a look at exercises that can help improve the stability of older adults so that they can remain active and move safely as they grow older.

1. Foot Taps

Foot taps, also known as toe taps, are a practical way to build leg strength, coordination, and balance. This exercise is very basic, but different variations and the inclusion of an aerobics platform can increase heart rate and focus on the development of strength, balance, and endurance.

The motion of this exercise — moving one foot at a time in front of yourself — can help improve balance when performing basic everyday movements like walking and going up steps.

How To Do Foot Taps

The most basic foot tap exercise requires standing in a normal position. You can have a wall, chair back, or counter on one side to assist with balance if needed.

You begin the exercise by moving one foot forward as if taking a step. However, once the ball of your foot touches the ground, you pull it back and return to the normal standing position. You then perform the same step-out and pull-back motions with the other foot. You can repeat this motion with alternating feet for as long as you wish.

You can also add an aerobics platform. Instead of simply stepping out with your foot, you step out and up, tapping your foot on the top of the platform before pulling it back. Other variations can include making a circular motion with your foot before tapping it on the platform.

2. Head Rotations

Head rotation is a basic balance exercise that can also strengthen the neck. This exercise is extremely helpful because the balance of your entire body is dependent on your head. Sensors in your inner ear are constantly measuring your head's position in relation to gravity and accounting for various motions you experience.

Head rotations are a way to keep this entire balance system in proper working order. Researchers have found that these exercises do have a positive effect on balance in older adults.

How To Do Head Rotations

Head rotations, also known as head rolls or neck rolls, require you to stand straight up with your head pointing forward. You then begin moving your head to the right without fully turning it. Your chin should create about a 45-degree angle with your shoulder.

As you move your head toward the right, you gently begin to tilt it backward. You should feel stretching but no discomfort in your neck muscles. While tilting the head up, you begin to move it to the left. Once your chin and left shoulder create a 45-degree angle, you can start moving your head down and to the right. When your chin and shoulders create two 90-degree angles, you have completed one cycle.

You can alternate directions for an equal number of cycles, moving to the left and up first.

3. Marching in Place

Marching in place is a convenient exercise that you can do at home. In addition to helping with endurance and heart health, it is also effective for improving balance. As with foot taps, marching is practical for everyday fitness because it mimics actual movements.

One study showed that this exercise is extremely effective at improving balance while standing and walking. More importantly, it helped older adults feel more confident with their balance and lowered their fear of falling.

How To March in Place

You can perform this exercise with the assistance of a wall or chair for support until you become more confident.

Begin standing normally and facing forward. You lift one leg at the knee, making an exaggerated marching step. Rather than actually stepping, you will simply lower your leg back down until you are in your original standing position. You then make the same marching motion with the other leg, making sure to lift your knee higher than you would during a regular walking step.

It is important to start this exercise carefully. Using a platform or ramp with railings to hold onto can be a good way to ensure safety.

4. Single Leg Balances

Physicians and physical therapists use a single-leg balance test to assess a subject’s body control and risk of a serious fall. In most cases, fall risks are elevated if the subject cannot stand on one leg for at least five seconds.

The one-legged stance can also work as an exercise, with the goal of matching or exceeding the time threshold for safe balance. Other benefits of this exercise include increased stamina and leg strength.

How To Balance on One Leg

For safety, it is best to perform this exercise while getting extra support from a chair or rail, either placed in front of you or on either side.

You can start this exercise by standing normally and holding the chair or rail. You then lift one leg up and hold it off the ground for five seconds — or longer if you wish. You can then return to your standing position before lifting the other leg off the ground and holding it for the same amount of time. You can repeat this cycle to add repetitions or increase the amount of time you hold each leg up. Mayo Clinic suggests that you can hold each leg off the ground for up to 30 seconds.

5. Sit-to-stand

Sit-to-stand exercises help patients strengthen their legs and core so that they can perform an action that most people have to do multiple times each day: getting up out of a chair.

Older adults may be retired so they do not have to sit in an office all day, but they will still sit in chairs at meal times and around the house. Therefore, sit-to-stand is one of the more practical exercises to gain strength and balance for daily life.

How To Do the Sit-to-stand Exercise

This exercise requires a chair. You may wish to start by using a chair with armrests, but the goal should be to move to one without extra support when you feel strong enough.

You begin this exercise in a seated position. You start by moving your feet shoulder-width apart, ensuring they are flat on the floor. You slide your body toward the front edge of the chair, leaning your upper body slightly forward until your weight shifts from your bottom to your feet. You can then stand up, using as little support from your hands and arms as possible until you are standing straight up in front of the chair.

You can sit back down and repeat the process as many times as you wish. For most people, the goal is to improve balance and core and leg strength enough to perform the standing without extra arm support.

6. Tightrope Walk

Tightrope walk exercise does not involve balancing on an actual rope. Instead, you simply mimic the movements of a tightrope walker by placing one foot directly in front of the other as you step across a room.

Placing one foot in front of the other in this manner is more challenging than walking with regular strides.

How To Do the Tightrope Walk

If you wish to perform this exercise accurately, you can place tape or some other marker on the floor to create a straight line that you will attempt to follow with your feet.

You begin the exercise by standing normally before stepping forward and placing one foot on the line. You then shift your weight to your front foot and step forward with the back one. The second foot should step on the line in front of the first one.

You repeat the process by shifting your weight to the front foot and stepping on the line as you cross the room.

7. Tree Pose

The tree pose is a basic yoga stance. It is a challenging balance exercise that helps with flexibility and leg and core strength. It is similar to a single-leg balance position, but it requires more strength and flexibility.

How To Do the Tree Pose

Though advanced yoga practitioners usually attempt this pose without balance assistance, older adults will want to use a chair or rails to provide support. This exercise is challenging and could result in a fall if you do not have balance assistance.

To perform the tree pose, you stand straight upward in a normal stance. With your hands on the support, you can lift one leg up. The goal is to place the sole of your lifted foot on the thigh of the grounded leg and hold the pose for as long as possible.

Once you have reached your goal time, you can drop your lifted leg to the ground again and repeat the pose with the other leg.

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