- Why should senior citizens perform balance exercises?
- Body balance explained
- Getting started with balance exercises
- Exercises to improve balance for seniors
- Balance exercise for Parkinson’s
- Balance exercise for vertigo
- Balance exercise for stroke
- Balance exercises for peripheral neuropathy
We may not bother much about posture and balance while still young as we find it normal and natural. However, as age sets in, our bones weaken and muscles begin to lose strength. In turn, this affects body coordination, balance, and stability. Loss of balance and stability is one of the leading causes of falls among seniors. According to CDC data, falls are the leading cause of death as a result of injuries for seniors aged 65 and above. However, there are some balance exercises for seniors that’ll help you avoid falling into these statistics.
Also, just because we age, doesn’t mean we can’t maintain our balance and stability. The right workout regime can keep you fit and sprightly. Exercising is a great way to build muscle strength to achieve body balance. However, you first need to understand your needs to know the best balance exercise for seniors and the best program for you in particular. Below, we discuss different types of body balance exercises that are great. But first, let us understand why seniors need balance exercises.
Why should senior citizens perform balance exercises?
Balance exercises have immense benefits for seniors. Below are some examples.
Good for lung and heart health
Exercise remains important and necessary whether for the younger or the older generation. More important is maintaining a workout program throughout your life to keep you young and youthful even at an advanced age. Exercise does not only improve body balance; it also helps your cardiovascular system to function optimally for improved lung and heart health. This reduces the risk of conditions such as asthma, lung fibrosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and coronary artery disease among others.
Improves balance and stability
Exercising maintains your coordination, posture, stability, and body balance for you to remain independent at an advanced age. Balance refers to the ability to control your body when not moving. Stability, on the other hand, refers to the ability to control your body when moving. Maintaining an upright body posture during activities like walking and running means you have good stability.
Reduces risk of falling
Further, a good exercise regime reduces one’s risk of falls and slips, anxiety, and fear. Falls can be fatal or cause serious injuries with seniors more at risk of falls than others. A study conducted in 2016 found that seniors who did at least one balanced exercise for the elderly regularly for up to 6 weeks not only improved their balance but also gained confidence.
Enhances your all-in-all state
Finally, balance exercises help improve one’s memory and cognitive function. Experts recommend at least two exercise sessions in a week for seniors. With all the benefits gained from balance exercises, seniors ultimately improve their quality of life by reducing their dependency on others.
Body balance explained
Body balance has to do with the coordination between various parts of the body system and the brain in relation to the environment. The environment affects the brain nerves that control vision, sleep, hearing, digestion, memory, and other senses.
When the body is in motion, the brain transmits chemical signals from different senses to various muscles. Then they work together to execute different activities including standing, sitting, sleeping, walking, and eating.
For instance, our eyes will see an obstacle that our feet need to skip over. Or, our ears will hear the sound of an oncoming vehicle, eyes will turn to look, and our feet walk away from the road.
Our brain, our senses, alongside our joints and muscles work together to activate different movements and activities in reaction to the environment around us. They also coordinate to help us maintain the right balance.
When any of the systems fail to function normally, it affects the body balance. For instance, a knee injury affecting the knee joint may result in limping instead of walking in an upright posture which affects balance and increases the risk of falling.
Getting started with balance exercises
There are several gentle exercises you can do to help you improve or maintain your balance. Whether you have been working out regularly, haven’t done exercises in a long while, consider starting regular muscle and balance workouts for seniors.
However, before beginning your workout program, it is essential to bear the following in mind:
- It is advisable to consult your health care provider, doctor, or licensed professional about your decision to start a routine of balance exercises.
- Some may prefer to work out in the gym but this is not a must. A safe place in your house in which you can exercise comfortably is equally good and less demanding. If possible, find someone to offer support, supervise, and motivate you during your workouts. Yes, it is possible to have fun balance exercises for seniors with accountability partners.
- Wear loose comfortable workout clothes and shoes that protect you and at the same time allow you some freedom.
- Always begin your workout sessions with warm-ups and end them with cool-downs especially if you plan on doing the more intense balance exercises.
- You will need a supporting object to hold on to when working out such as a doorway, chair, or countertop. In addition, you can invest in an affordable anti-slip yoga mat that provides protective padding during your sitting, kneeling, or lying down exercises.
- Start slow with short intervals of 10-minute or less and gradually build up as your body adjusts.
- Whenever you feel strained, dizzy, or in some pain, stop any exercise that you are doing and take a break and only resume if you feel relieved.
- Never end your sessions abruptly as this may cause heart palpitations or increase your blood pressure.
- Always hydrate throughout your workout. Plain water is best for hydration.
Exercises to improve balance for seniors
Here are 10 exercises to improve balance for seniors. They are also simple and less strenuous making them fit for everyone.
1. Foot taps
Also, known as toe taps, foot taps have immense benefits. Some include strengthening lower body muscles like your calves, hamstrings, glutes, and hip muscles to achieve balance, flexion, and a healthy cardiovascular system. This is a great balance exercise for older adults as it also reduces lower back pain.
Before you begin, make sure that the area around is clear of debris and padded enough for a soft landing. With your hands at your side, stand at the bottom step of your staircase or doorstep.
While standing with your feet apart, raise your right foot to tap onto the step and leave the left foot on the ground. Tap onto the step 10 to 20 times and then switch and tap the step with your left foot.
Once you have achieved balance, try a higher challenge by adding the taps, alternating the toe taps faster, and more frequently.
2. Head rotation
Next on our top ten list of balance exercises for seniors is the simple head rotation exercise.
This exercise involves gently rotating your head from left to right and thereafter moving it up and down. Head rotations can be done while sitting down or when standing. They are great for improving balance where a senior’s vision is affected. Start slowly and gently rotating your head from left to right and up and down for around 30 seconds.
Slow down whenever you feel dizzy or take a break when the dizziness persists.
Sit-to-stands are great for strengthening the thighs, core, back, and back muscles for those who want to achieve stability and improve their balance and mobility. If you’ve had knee or hip surgery that may have affected your ability to get up from any surface, the sit-to-stand balance exercise will be helpful.
Start this exercise while standing in front of a chair and slowly sit down on the chair. Rest for some seconds and gently rise up and repeat the process. You may want to support yourself at first but with time, you can consider sitting and rising off the chair without support.
4. Rock the boat
This is a simple exercise that anyone can do to improve their balance.
Stand with your feet apart at shoulder width. Both soles of the feet should be in firm contact with the floor.
Gently begin to lift your left leg out to the left or behind and rest it back on the floor with 30-second pauses in between. In case you are just starting and need to support yourself you can use a chair, shelf, or cane.
Do the same with your right leg and keep repeating the exercises every time alternating your right and left leg.
Try a higher challenge by lifting your leg higher in the air, suspending it longer, and repeating the cycle more times in a single session.
5. Tree pose
This is a popular yoga exercise is another one of the great balance exercises for seniors. It’s good for strengthening your ankles, thighs, groins, torso, calves, shoulder, and abdominal muscles.
Stand on your two feet. Shift your weight on the right foot. Slowly lift your left foot from the ground up as you bend your knee until your sole touches and presses against your right thigh at the side of your knee (make sure that your foot is not rested directly on your knee).
All the while, your right leg should remain standing straight and your hands in a comfortable position. Maintain this position for about one minute and then do the same with the other foot.
6. Flamingo stand
The Flamingo stand balance and stability exercise helps build your core muscles.
While standing next to a wall for support when you need it, stand with your feet comfortably apart and your hands on the wall.
Raise your right foot right up to the level of your hip or an inch off the ground, remain balanced on your left foot for 10 seconds, and then lower your right foot. Next, raise your left foot the same as you did with the right foot.
To give yourself a higher challenge, repeat this cycle a little faster for at least 10 minutes without supporting yourself on the wall.
7. Tightrope walk
This is one of the best and most popular walking balance exercises for seniors as it helps to improve balance, core strength, and posture without straining much.
Stand with one foot in front of the other with the heel of the front foot touching the toes of the back foot in a straight line.
Stretch out your arms to the sides and start walking forward in a straight line.
As you raise each foot to take the next step, leave it raised in the air for about three seconds before resting it on the ground to take the next step. An effective session should last at least 20 steps.
8. Back leg raises
When your lower back muscles need a little stretch, back leg raises will do the job perfectly. Back leg raises, apart from strengthening your lower back muscles, help you maintain an upright posture when seated, standing, or when walking.
Support yourself on a chair, counter, or against the wall.
Gently shift your body weight to your right foot as you raise the left leg slowly upward behind you. As you raise your left leg, try to make it as straight and raise it as high as possible and maintain this position for about 5 seconds before lowering your leg to the ground.
Do the same, shifting your weight to the left leg while raising your right leg the same way you did the left. Repeat the cycle at least 10 times before you take a break.
9. Forward and backward tilt
For this balance exercise, you will need a balance board.
Stand on the outer edges of the balance board with your hands stretched straight down on your sides. While on it, shift your weight forward until the front edge of the board touches the ground and stay in this position for some seconds.
Once done, slowly shift your weight to the back until the edge of the board touches the ground from the rear, and stay in this position for a few seconds.
If you are not used to it, start with slow tilts forward and backward near rails to get support when you need it. Once you have mastered the exercise, you can increase the time that the edge of your board touches the ground on both sides. Remember that your feet need to firmly step on one position on the board as it shifts to achieve the best results.
10. Clock reach
This is a great exercise for those who desire to work on poor balance and coordination caused by vision challenges.
To do this exercise, stand with your legs apart and your right hand holding the chair. Shift your weight to the right leg and slowly raise the other one from the ground.
Extend your left hand in front as if pointing it to 12 o’clock and then slowly move it round to 6 o’clock behind you. Switch and do the same with your right hand as the left one holds the chair for support. You may not extend your hands directly behind you at first but with practice, you will soon be able to do this.
Balance exercise for Parkinson’s
Parkinson’s is a progressive brain disease that affects parts of the brain causing one to lose the ability to control the parts of the body connected to the affected parts of the brain.
This results in slowed or uncontrolled movements, stiff muscles, balance, and coordination challenges. Parkinson’s disease often affects people in old age and has no cure. This disease has no known cause although for some people it is genetic.
The good news is that there are muscle-strengthening balance exercises for Parkinson’s that you can engage in to improve your balance and coordination and ultimately quality of life.
Static standing balance
This is one of the best balance exercises for people suffering from Parkinson’s condition. It is also easy and very safe for them. This exercise helps one to maintain an upright posture when standing in a relaxed manner. Yet, it minimizes swaying which is a symptom of Dyskinesia in Parkinson’s.
- Stand upright with your feet shoulder length apart and back up into a corner, but not in contact with the wall. Also stand while facing a chair, table, or counter.
- Stand in this position for 30 seconds
- Stand upright with your feet together for 30 seconds and repeat the cycle several times.
Single foot balance
Here is another simple exercise to help improve your balance. For it you’ll need a balance board. You can also hold on to a chair if you need support.
- Put your right foot at the center of the board.
- Lift the left foot as you raise your knee as high as possible.
- Maintain this position for 30 seconds, relax for a moment then switch over and do the same for the right foot.
- Repeat this cycle at least 3 times for each foot
Wall leaning is a great exercise for people suffering from Parkinson’s disease. It works by strengthening your core muscles to improve your posture and range of motion. It is also great for relieving upper back pain.
- With your back leaning against the wall and your feet shoulder-length apart and stepping away from the wall, try to pull your upper back away from the wall until you are standing upright. This exercise draws strength from the legs.
- Afterward, with your feet still stepping firmly on the ground, move your hips slowly back to touch the wall then move your upper body to do the same. You’ll notice at this time that your toes lift a little during this process and this is perfectly okay.
- Repeat this cycle at least ten times.
Balance exercise for vertigo
Vertigo is a sudden feeling that the world around you is spinning round and causing you to feel dizzy and off-balance. Vertigo is caused by inner ear or head problems like BPPV (benign paroxysmal positional vertigo) triggered by certain head movements that cause dizziness, severe headache, loss of balance, and unsteadiness.
Two good balance exercises that help relieve the symptoms of vertigo are:
Marching in place
Marching is a great balance exercise for vertigo as it helps to improve balance and motion. You may need to hold on to a chair or walker for support. You can also stand next to a wall or in a corner if you prefer them for support.
Stand upright with your feet shoulder-width apart. Bend your left knee as you lift it high. Lower it and then lift your right knee high as if you are marching. Lift your knees alternately 20 times before you take a rest. You can practice this exercise twice a day and then try a higher challenge by marching in place 30 times every session.
Turning in place
Turning in place is a little more challenging than marching in place. You may need a chair or if you prefer, stand near a wall for support.
- Stand with your feet comfortably apart and your hands stretched down at your side.
- Slowly turn left in half a circle (180 degrees).
- If you feel dizzy, rest for 10 seconds until the dizziness clears off.
- Turn to the right in half a circle back to your first position.
- Pay attention to the turn that makes you feel dizzier. Then concentrate on turning in that direction at least 5 times per session twice a day.
- You can try a higher challenge by turning around in a full circle.
Balance exercise for stroke
Stroke is the fifth cause of death and the leading cause of disability in the United States. A stroke occurs when the arteries that supply oxygen to the brain rupture or get blocked by a clot. Stroke can result in paralysis or loss of muscle movement, numbness on the face, memory loss, and negative behavioral changes.
A good balance exercise for stroke survivors is the knee rotations.
Knee rotations strengthen your core muscles, and improve balance, and coordination. You will need a mat or a firm soft-padded surface to lie on.
Lie on your back with your hands rested on your sides.
Fold your knees up with your feet stepping on the ground and slowly with your knees together, lower them to the ground, bring them up again to the center, and then lower them to the ground on the right side and back. Do this several times.
Balance exercises for peripheral neuropathy
Peripheral neuropathy is a condition that occurs when the nerves outside the brain and spinal cord are damaged causing muscle weakness, numbness, poor balance, tingling sensation, and chronic pain in the hands and feet.
Balance exercises are good for peripheral neuropathy as they can preserve nerve function, aid nerve regeneration, and build muscle strength. Two great balance exercises for peripheral neuropathy are:
Stand with one leg in front of the other. Take a step forward with the back leg as you bend your knee a bit. Lean forward with the front leg ensuring that the heel of the back leg remains firmly on the ground. Stay in this position for 15 seconds then repeat the process several times as you alternate legs each time.
Side leg raise
You will need a chair or counter for support. Stand upright with your feet apart at shoulder length. Raise the right leg towards the side and keep it up for 10 seconds and then slowly lower it. Do the same with the left leg and repeat the process several times.
Balance, muscle strength, and flexibility are important for good health and mobility even for seniors. This is because it promotes independence in daily activities such as walking, sitting, dressing, taking a bath, or tending the garden. A simple 15 minutes of regular balance exercise workouts can make the whole difference in someone’s quality of life.
Regular balance exercises can be more beneficial when started earlier in life. However, it is never too late to begin working out. These exercises cater to all types of people. If you are concerned about straining your already frail muscles, you can start slowly with simple gentle exercises like foot taps, head rotation, sit-to-stand, and rock the boat.
To reap the full benefits of balance exercises, be sure to eat healthily and engage in other relaxing activities like yoga, tai chi, and simple walking balance exercises.