12 Best Balance Exercises For Seniors and the Elderly to Help Prevent Falls


If you are looking for one of the best FREE online resources for senior and elderly balance training exercises, you found it!

12 Best  Balance Exercise Videos: Skip down to follow along with our FREE videos and improve your balance

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You don't have to fall

elderly-balance-1Have you ever lost your footing on wet or icy pavement causing you to fling your arms in the air and sending your heart into high gear?

If you have then you know how frightening loosing your balance can be.

Ordinarily we take our balance for granted, but it is an important and vital part of our daily life.

As many as 28% to 45% of elders fall each year.

Though our balance will decline as we age, balance activities, elderly balance exercises and elderly balance training can limit the loss or actually improve our performance.


Learn the most common reasons seniors fall

  • Your vision may decrease which can lead to falls due to not seeing clearly.
  • Your hips and legs can become weaker making it harder to walk.
  • We can develop poor posture or have spinal degeneration making it harder to stand erect.
  • Our ability to lift our feet decreases and we can stumble.
  • It takes longer to react when something is in our way causing us to fall.
  • Many drugs interact causing dizziness or decrease balance.
  • Low blood pressure can lead to light-headedness increasing our risk of falls.

Caution: Make sure you check with your doctor if you suspect a more serious balance problem involving vertigo, ear infections, Meniere's disease, chronic dizziness or drug interactions.

That is why beginning a balance program for elderly and seniors which incorporates strength training, endurance training and balance training is essential in maintaining and promoting good balance.

How does our
balance work?

 

Our balance system is truly amazing!

When we rise from a chair, climb stairs and walk outside on uneven terrain there is cooperation between the brain, nervous system, muscles and bones which help keep us from falling.

 

The secret of good balance: Know the three essential balance elements

Visual Cues

Visual cues come from our eyes and tell us all sorts of information about our environment.

Our eyes help us see and prepare for potential dangers and obstacles which can prevent falls.

The inner ear

The inner ear also contains a fluid-filled semicircular canal which gives us important information on the position of our head and its movement in space in relation to gravity.

Internal spatial orientation

Internal spatial orientation tells us where our arms and legs are positioned in space.

For example, if you close your eyes and then lift your arm and wave it about your head, you know where your arm is because of this inner sense of feedback.

When all these systems are working together automatically with our musculoskeletal system we can stay active and independent, preventing falls and improving your elderly balance.

Can I keep or regain my balance?

elderly-balance-3Here is the light at the end of the tunnel.

I especially like working with the elderly and seniors on balance simply because it is a skill that many of us can keep during our adult life.

Though there are often many factors involved with decreased balance as we age, a lot of this decline is simply due to our inactivity.

This can usually be improved with training.

This training will involve improving your overall upper and lower body strength along with challenging your balance system daily with activities that require you to use the three systems I spoke of above.

Do you play tennis?

tennisWhen I talk to seniors about balance, I use the example of tennis player posture.
If you play tennis you know that there is a server and a receiver. Think of how the receiver stands. Feet wide apart, knees and hips flexed, upper body leaning forward.

Players use this posture because it is the most "ready for action" position they can get into in order to react to the serve.

It is a very stable and safe position.

That is usually also our choice as we age...finding the safest most balanced position.

Unfortunately, when we make this choice, our balance system is poorly challenged and our brain begins to become lazy.

Our brain says, "Well, Mary just doesn't need all that balance anymore. I'll start turning off some balance switches."

Oh...to be young again!

gymnasticHere is another example. Have you ever watched women's gymnastics on the TV?

Have you ever wondered how a 16 year old young woman can jump onto a 4 inch wide beam way up in the air and do a hand stand or flip?

Do you think any 16 year old young women could do that? Well the answer is "no".

Someone who does not practice this level of balance cannot perform these activities.

They will fall off the beam and embarrass themselves for sure!

Practice!

reclinerWell, like anything else in life it is about practice.

There is a saying you may have heard but I put it in a different way.

"Practice makes PER...MANENT".

If you are practicing something wrong, it will be permanently wrong.

Are you practicing sitting in your recliner?

Come on, be honest.

If you are, then you will certainly get better at sitting in your recliner!

Start practicing balance exercises. There are plenty on our site. Just keep reading...

Common sense balance: Learn the safest way to balance at home

  • These exercises are intended for normal imbalance and unsteadiness in seniors as they age due to inactivity and disuse.
  • Make sure you check with your doctor if you suspect a more serious balance problem involving vertigo, ear infections, Meniere's disease, chronic dizziness or drug interactions.
  • If you are working with a senior with poor balance or the frail elderly, make sure they are closely supervised at all times.
  • Progress to the next exercise when the preceding one can be done safely or if you have enough assistance.
  • Be aware of your posture. Try to maintain your weight over your ankles.
  • Avoid fast movements including quick turns or changes in position.
  • Use a chair as a place to not only perform seated exercise but also to hold on to while standing. Hold on with your finger, one hand or two hands.
EX5chairhand1_wm EX5chairhand1_wm EX5chairhand1_wm
  • Always get up slowly when rising from a chair.
  • Don't close your eyes when exercising or standing at your chair.
  • If you are taking medications, ask your doctor if there are any side effects which may cause light-headedness or decreased balance.

Balance checklist: The simple items in your house that will improve your balance

1. Armless Chair

The basic piece of equipment you will need is an armless chair.

Usually a kitchen or dining room chair is just fine.

This will give you confidence while performing your exercises.

Always keep the chair close by. It provides a great place to rest after exercising!

2. Smooth Bottom Shoes

Try not to wear shoes with tacky rubber or trail type shoes.

These will catch on the carpet and floor which may result in tripping.

I like a dance type shoe, one with a leather bottom.

These allow a catch-free step.

A dance shoe will also come in handy when you begin your dance class!

3. Kitchen Counter

A kitchen counter to hold on to.

This is a great place to walk when you are just beginning your balance exercise program.

Simply hold on to the counter with one hand for balance while you step forward, sideways etc.

Even if your counter is only a few feet long, just turn around and start again.

Maybe you will be inspired to start cooking again!

4. Soft Item To Step Over

I like children's stuffed animals or slippers.

Make sure they are not over 6 inches high.

That's all you need to step over during your stepping exercises.

Don't get too ambitious and use that large stuffed panda bear!

5. Painters Tape

Can't walk in a straight line? No problem.

Take some handy painters tape, place a line of it down your hallway or in your living room.

In our videos you will notice I have placed a piece of masking tape on the floor to follow along with.

It is especially helpful with sideways movements as these are the hardest to remain straight when performing.

Make sure you have some handy when you need to take a sobriety test!

6. Wrist Weights

To get more of a workout you may use ankle or wrist weights.

Don't use more than one or two pounds for either your legs or arms.

More weight than this may lead to shoulder injury due to holding your arm out away from your body. Who needs a gym!

7. Sheet of Paper

A sheet of paper or a note pad is a great item to add challenge to you walking exercises.

As you will see in the video, try to walk while gazing at the paper.

This advanced elderly balance exercise will improve your ability to walk comfortably in the supermarket or at the mall.

Just don't charge too much!

8. You!

Lastly we need YOU! This means that you can do it. I know you can.

I have had every balance situation in my profession as a physical therapist.

Remember to exercise everyday. 'Practice makes....permanent!'

You will get better at whatever you practice every day. So don't practice sitting on the couch anymore!


Balancing exercises are challenging!

Picture54Don't try these senior and elderly balance exercises alone if you are uncomfortable about these exercises or are unsure of your ability to complete them.

Start slowly with the first exercise until you become used to the new experience of stressing your balance system.

It is not a race to the finish.

You may be comfortable only performing the first few balance exercises and not be comfortable doing the moving and walking exercises.

That is ok! Really!

Never do something that you are nervous about by yourself.

Much better to have a helpful, stable person around to make you more confident and secure. What else are family members for?

Before You Start

Picture27Balancing exercises are fun but they can also be challenging.

Make sure you have a stable family member on hand when you begin to practice these exercises.

You will be more confident in performing the exercises and having a helping hand to hold will allow you to better focus on maintaining your balance as you get used to the exercises.

"Hey, uncle Charlie, can you hold on to me while I practice these silly exercises?"

Let's get started!

Video-Marketing121I have made 12 elderly and senior balance exercise videos for you to view below.

The exercises below are a sampling of some basic balance exercises we use in Physical Therapy.

The exercises progress in difficulty from beginning to end.

If you use a cane or walking is difficult, make sure someone is with you for support. (Uncle Charlie!)

Remember, elderly and senior balance training can be a fun activity but will only show benefits if it is done regularly with the correct focus.

"Practice makes PERMANENT."

Practice one exercise every day for optimal results.

So get a stable family member, your chair, place it in a clear spot in your living room.

Put on your smooth bottom shoes and let's begin the beguine!

12 Best balance exercise videos: Follow along with our videos and improve your balance

1. Single limb stance

  • A great place to begin is with the simplest standing balance exercise. Hold on to a chair and balance on one leg.
  • This is a great place to begin to feel your center of gravity over your ankles. This is your goal, maintaining your center over your ankles.
  • Try a few seconds balancing on each foot. Work up to a minute if you can. Then begin to hold on with one hand, then one finger and finally try to let go completely.

2. Eye tracking

  • Move on to the other exercises with static standing exercises as you gain confidence including this exercise which targets your vision and vestibular system.
  • This exercise can sometimes make you dizzy. If this happens, stop the exercise. Try it again with smaller head movements next time.
  • Gradually you will learn to do it correctly.

3. Clock reach

  • Make sure to hold on to a chair when attempting this exercise to prevent falls in the elderly. Don't reach back too far if you have pain in your shoulder.
  • (Use your one pound wrist weight here to increase your workout.)

4. Staggered stance

  • Also hold on to a chair when trying this exercise for elderly balance problems. Let go of the chair for a few seconds at a time if you feel comfortable.

5. Single limb with arm

  • Look up from your feet when balancing and pick a spot at eye level in front of you to improve falls in elderly. Lift your chest and bring your shoulders back.
  • Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth

6. Balancing wand

  • This is a fun exercise and easy to do. Use a cane, broom or even an umbrella.  Don't have too much fun with these balance exercises for elderly!

7. Knee marching

  • Try this one next to a counter so you can hold on when performing knee marching. This is also a great cardio exercise and for leg muscle weakness.

8. Body circles

  • This exercise for improving balance can be a little tricky. Keep a chair nearby if you are uncomfortable without one.  Make sure your knees and hips are kept straight when you circle.

9. Heel to toe

  • The moving exercises are the most difficult. Only try this balance exercise when you have become good at the preceding exercises.
  • (If you have masking or painters tape, place an 8 to 12 foot piece in a straight line on the carpet or floor. This will allow you to maintain a straighter line when performing the walking exercises.)

10. Grapevine

  • Seniors who dance will be more familiar with these balance exercises. Try it in your kitchen holding on to the counter.
  • Walk several steps in one direction, turn around and walk back. Continue for several minutes. Gradually hold on less and less until you can take a few steps without holding on.
  • It may take a while, but keep practicing...you'll get it sooner or later!

11. Stepping

  • This series of stepping exercises are very challenging. You may have a stable family member demonstrate these for you first.

12. Dynamic walking

  • Try these only when you feel confident and have a helper in the home.
  • Give them a try when you are stronger and more sure of yourself. These exercises are great to do with someone else.
  • Holding hands with a stable family member will make these exercises easier and safer. (This is where you may use your pad of paper or a small book when walking.)

40 Comments

  1. I have a balance problem at 90 years. These exercises are excellent and beautifully illustrated. It seems to me that they start with difficult tasks and end with easier tasks. I wonder why?

    1. Paul
      These exercises can be challenging. Start with exercises that are stationary first like standing on one leg, then to the moving exercises with stepping patterns which are more difficult. Good luck!

  2. I am long-distance care-giving my mom, and was trained as a physical therapist. This is an excellent website! My only regret is that your links are not specific enough….e.g. elderly balance.html. I would love it if your website admin could add the specific exercise name after the name. It would be helpful in knowing which site is which. Minor point by a tech geek. I made up an individualized plan for my mom by copying and pasting the instructions, and then added hyperlinks for each site to each exercise (which, when tested, go to the correct site, but I couldn’t add them to her hard copy, since the sites all look the same in the links). She’ll have to have her computer handy to know which page goes to which video. Thanks again, though! I really appreciate this!

    1. Susan
      You are welcome. Thanks for the great comments. You are right, the page name is different than the exercise on the page. Unfortunately, on the internet, you need to make your readers happy and also make Google happy. I make the readers happy with the exercise video, and make google happy by naming the page after a general common search term. In other words, more people will find my site with the page name “flexibility-exercises-for-seniors”, than with the page name “quad-stretch”. Also, at the end of the ebook, there are some sample workouts which have the exercises hyperlinked to the corresponding page on the website. Just click on the exercise and you will be taken to the correct page if you have an internet connection. My best to your wonderful mom!

  3. Hi Doug,

    I work as a caregiver for Aspen Senior Care (aspenseniorcare.com) and Aspen Senior Center (aspenseniorcenter.org) and we are always looking for suggestions and information that we can use to help make our seniors lives better. I’m so glad I found your site after Googling “elder exercises”. Loved the “balance” gym. I’ve blogged about your site and it should be posted on ours this week.

    Thanks so much!
    Nancy

  4. Hey Doug !
    I recently passed my -cpt exam and my over excited grandmother (87) wants me to train her.
    As you may know grandmothers do not take no for an answer,
    Her goals are to improve her balance to be able to walk efficiently and dance at my sisters wedding.
    She has been in a series of falls over the last few years leading to broken wrist broken knee and foot.
    Yes she is Wonder Woman!
    With all that said im looking at this program you have posted to see if it would still be beneficial for her.
    She can still walk ( not very fast), she has done all her therapy for her past injuries and amazed doctors with how much she was able to heal.
    I just want to be able to provide her with an exercise program that will meet her goals but can still be safe for her !
    Many thanks ,
    Emily

    1. Emily
      I still work daily with elderly patients in Physical Therapy, so I usually suggest to family members to see your physician and get a referral to PT where, as a family member, you can learn how to help with the home balance program they will provide. If you can’t get to therapy, the exercises on this site are mostly physical therapy balance exercises and are appropriate for seniors. Start at the beginning and keep working your way through. The harder ones are the last ones, and it is good to have a helper with those. You will be surprised how much improvement a little exercise on a daily basis can make with senior balance. Good luck.

      1. hi,Doug. I am a physiotherapy student,having interest in doing my final year thesis about geriatric population. Wondering do you have any ideas can help out?

        1. That is great. The most popular question on my site by far is ” How do I improve my balance”. I still work in a hospital and can certainly suggest that falls are one of the biggest challenges senior can face as they age.

  5. I am 88years old. My legs are strong. I can get up from a chair without holding on. Recently I fell and broke my right wrist and had a radial head fracture in the left arm. I am recovering well, but am using a walker. Would these exercises help me to stop using the walker after the Dr discharges me?

  6. I am 83 and my balance is fair but could use improvement. My son, an MD, suggested I take your recommendations.
    Thank you. I like your approach.
    HS

  7. This is excellent for People like me who have survived a stroke & have had their balance affected. Not just for seniors! Thank you!

  8. Hi, I am reading your site and I am so thankful to find it. I am ac type 2 diabetic. When I first got this I thought I have a celebrity disease really did not think much about it. I take my blood glucose hopefully daily. I am now 70 yrs old and have neuropathy from the waist down. My balance is really bad. Sometimes I walk ok and then all of sudden I loose my balance and I look like I am drunk. I sure hope it is not to late. I have a lot more to do. I live near KCMO. In Sept there is a 1 mile or 4 miles fundraiser for the Zoo. I am hoping I can walk in it. Thanks so much Joyce Veazey.

  9. I used to be skeptical until I really tried it out.
    Using a gym, however, is time-consuming as well as costing hundreds of dollars
    in fees. Put it on paper; the first and most essential step when planning a is as simple as making
    a list.

  10. Hi, I’m 61, and collecting disability due to cerebellar ataxia. I tend to be a bit stubborn, and don’t want to “give in” to my condition. I came across your website, and wondered if these exercises might help. What do you think?

  11. I’m a licensed Zumba (r) Gold Fitness Instructor…I work with a variety of ages, Baby Boomers, Elders, Active Adults etc…Zumba Gold incorporates balance sequences in our fitness routines in every class. I would like to suggest finding a program like this is learn how to safely and confidently re-train the body how to be in balance. It has worked for my groups!!!

  12. Doug, Thank you so much. I am turning 50 in a few days and am recovering from a broken leg. I re-learned walking on my own with terrible results and needless to say, it is getting worse. The pain meds (Tramadol) became toxic so i am recovering from that also. I have had 10 PT sessions and we did not work on balance once. I feel like I have to teach my therapist what to do.I’ll pay your help forward ASAP.

    1. Chris
      You are welcome. Balance training definitely becomes more important as we get older, or when we have limitations due to trauma. Sounds like you are on the right track.

      1. I broke my leg also a couple years ago. I had an artificial metal knee in and it shattered my upper leg. It took me months to back to walking and I have never learned how to take the steps using one leg at a time. I mean walking down with one leg and then down with the other leg only unto the step past the one my other leg is stepping on????? How do I get back to doing that? I’m so afraid of stumbling because I’m overweight along with a balance problem. Do I ever get over it? I haven’t be able to walk down inclines in ten years so I’m used to that and figure I’ll never be able to do so. Garage sales no more. Going back for PT is possible but like I said, I’m so scared it gives me a headache. Have a nice day.

        1. I would definitely try to find out patient physical therapy for improving your walking, especially on stairs and ramps or inclines. Tell them your goal is to get back to going to garage sales. For that you will need to be able to safely go up curbs, around tables, and up inclined driveways. You can always improve your balance and strength with daily practice.

    2. REALLY? WHERE DO YOU DO PT AT?? BALANCE EX’S ARE A MUST IN STRENGTHENING YOUR BROKEN LEG. I AM A PHYSICAL THERAPIST FROM MICHIGAN.

  13. I am a certified Personal Trainer With a Specialty in Senior Fitness
    I will be teaching a class in Strength & Balance at the Florida Blue Center In Carrolwood Tampa starting Thursday Sept 4,2014 at 11:am You cancontact me for more information or call the Carrolwood Florida Blue Center. 1-877-352-5830 Trainwithtomm@gmail.com

    1. You are welcome. Remember, your body takes 4 weeks to get used to a new program. Be safe and have fun with your exercise.

      1. Doug, I am so glad I stumbled onto this site. I am going to do as you suggested and start the excerise program today. I am 71 and in the last several years my balance has gone to almost nothing. I have fallen many many times. I have bad eye site, and have had an inner ear problem along with a bad back. I still work from home via the computer, so I sit alot. A friend of mine said my balance problem is mental. I cannot explain to a person that not experience this, that it is not. I have never been able to walk a straight line and the slightest change in grade levels almost panic me. So I am going to work daily on these excerises as you suggested. Thanks Again.

        1. Darlene
          Great that you are exercising and working on your balance. I think it is one of the most important areas for seniors to work on. Strength and balance go a long way to keeping you safe and active.

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