15 Balance Exercises for Seniors
It’s normal for seniors to lose some of their sense of balance as they age, but just because it’s normal doesn’t mean it’s something you should shrug off. Things like going for a walk or standing on a stepladder become much more risky in your older years than they ever were before. And falls are, by far, the leading cause of elderly injury. About one in three seniors are injured in a fall each year.
One of the best ways to avoid that fate is to do exercises that will improve your balance.
Important note: You certainly don’t want to fall because you decided to do some balance exercises to avoid falling. Most of these should be done with a wall or chair nearby so you have something to help you balance if you start to get wobbly.
Easy Balance Exercises for Seniors
If you’re just starting out with balance exercises, these are some easy options almost any senior should be able to do.
- Stand on one foot
This exercise is basic and offers the benefit of being something you can do pretty much anywhere. Simply lift one leg up so all your balance is one the other, hold for ten seconds or so, then switch to the other leg.
Keep alternating between the two for a minute or two, so you get plenty of practice on each leg.
- One-Legged Tooth Brushing
This one sounds a little strange, but it’s recommended by functional aging specialist Janis McDonald. Simply lift your right foot and make a movement like you’re brushing your teeth with your right hand on the upper left side of your mouth. After 30 seconds or so, switch to lifting your left leg and using your left hand to make a brushing movement on the upper right side of your mouth.
Then switch hands again, but make the brushing motion on the lower left side of your mouth. Then switch back and do the same on the other side.
You can actually do this one when you’re brushing your teeth in the morning and at night, if you want. Or you can simply mime the movements without an actual toothbrush in hand.
- Heel-to-Toe walk
This is another pretty simple one that you can practice anywhere that you have the space to walk. Instead of taking steps as you normally do, carefully place each foot directly in front of the other – so that your heel touches the toes of the foot behind it.
You can do this at whatever pace you’re comfortable with. Walk around the house a few times for practice, and stay close to a wall if you’re feeling unsteady as you do the exercise.
- Circle Sway
This exercise, another recommended by McDonald, requires very little space to perform. Standing in one spot, put both your feet together and sway in a circle. Make sure you sway your whole body and not just your torso. Then switch and sway in a circle going the other direction.
It’s harder than it sounds! You should probably stick close to a wall to be safe, in case you need to reach out and steady yourself.
- Tree pose
When you picture someone doing yoga, it’s usually this pose you think of. Some yoga balance poses can get a little more difficult, but this one’s fairly basic. Start by putting your weight on your left foot, you can sway a little back and forth with your right foot off the ground to get the feel for all your weight being carried on the left.
Then focus on a specific spot in front of you as you lift your right leg and place your heel on your left thigh, above the knee. You can place it lower if you find that too difficult, but be careful not to place it on the knee itself, as that will throw your balance off.
Stand in the position for 10-15 seconds, or longer if you’re comfortable there, then set your right food down and repeat on the other foot.
- March in Place
This one may sound kind of silly, but works! Simply stand in one place, and march. Lift your knee up as high as you comfortably can, hold it there for a couple of seconds, then do the same with the other knee. Keep that up for a minute or two.
- Chair Exercise
This is another McDonald recommendation and this one actually requires the suggested prop. Pick a chair to use and sit down in it (the first step is simple enough). Then cross your arms in front of you with a hand on each shoulder.
Keeping your arms where they are and your back as straight as you can keep it, stand up, then sit back down. This is easy if you do it wrong – leaning forward as you stand up, or looking downward. You have to be careful to keep your back straight and your face looking forward for it to work.
- Tightrope Walk
You want to mimic what you see tightrope walkers do – just on the ground instead of a tightrope. Lift your arms out to your sides and walk in as straight a line in front of you as possible. Pick a spot in front of you to stay focused on as you walk.
If you’re getting the hang of it and feel like getting fancy like expert tightrope walkers do, you can take a few steps backwards as well (but glance behind you first to make sure there’s nothing there you’ll trip on).
- Inner Balance
As you’re getting a little more comfortable with some of these exercises, you can try #1 again, but with an added challenge that makes it more difficult. Focus your weight on one foot, lift your other leg as you would normally do, then close your eyes. Hold the post for 10-15 seconds, or longer if you’re comfortable doing so.
Make sure you know where the wall or a chair or table is nearby before you close your eyes, so you know what to reach for if you feel you might fall.
- Tai chi
Tai chi is a martial art that is highly recommended for seniors because it’s safe for people to do at any age and is great for balance. Check to see if there are any tai chi classes in your area you can sign up for. If there’s not a class nearby, you can find a number of videos on YouTube or available for purchase that will talk you through the process.
Advanced Balance Exercises for Seniors
Yoga includes a number of poses that are great for balance, but some of them may be a little challenging if you haven’t done yoga before or are trying out balance exercises for the first time. If you feel you’re at the point where you’re ready to try something a little more advanced, these moves are worth trying.
- Dancer’s Pose
For natarajasana, the dancer’s pose, you want to focus your balance on your right foot, bend your left foot behind you and grab it with your left hand, then lean forward while stretching your right hand in front of you.
This video can match a visual to the instructions, if you’re having a hard time picturing it.
- Eagle pose
The eagle pose makes you look like you’re wrapped up like a pretzel. Start standing with your feet together. Then bend your knees, focus your weight on your right foot, and either wrap your left leg around your right leg, so that your toes are touching your right ankle, or cross your left leg over your right with your toes touching the ground on your right side.
Then place your right elbow on top of your left one and twist your arms so your palms are facing each other. Now, hold the pose for as long as you’re comfortable, then switch to the other side.
You can find pictures of what the pose looks like and some tips for modifications on this page.
- Both big toe
This one will seem positively simple to work out in comparison to that last one J.
Sit down on the ground or your yoga mat with your back straight and your legs stretched in front of you. Then bend your knees, grab a hold of the big toe on your left foot with your left hand, and the big toe on your right food with your right hand, then stretch out each foot while still holding on to your toes.
When you’re in place, the pose will look something like this (although your legs probably won’t be this straight or high up– which is fine!).
- Balancing Bound Angle
This is another one where you want to start sitting down. This time, bring the heels of your feet together in front of you so that they’re touching. Keeping your back as straight as possible, wrap your hands around your feet and use them to raise your feet up as high as you comfortably can (up to heart level is ideal).
Stay there for 5-10 seconds, or for as long as you’re comfortable. The move should look a bit like this.
- Extended hand to toe
Finally, we have another standing move. Focus your weight on your right foot, lift your left knee high enough to grab ahold of your big left toe with your left hand. Then stretch your left leg out while keeping hold of your toe. Hold the pose for 5-10 seconds, or as long as you’re comfortable. Then switch to the other side.
That pose should look like this, although it’s fine if your knee is bent some and your leg isn’t that high – do what’s comfortable for you!
The most important thing to remember as you do these balance exercises is to stay safe. If you feel uncomfortable, don’t push yourself too hard. Back off and try something easier rather than risk pulling a muscle or falling down. Don’t feel bad starting simple, it’s the safest choice and it’s much better than not doing any balance exercises at all. It’s also important to know when balance problems are a warning sign for something more serious so make sure to consult with your doctor if balance becomes a chronic problem.
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