A worrying number of Americans experience a fall each year; in fact, did you know that around 36 million seniors in the USA fall each year, according to the CDC, and as many as 32,000 of these falls result in a fatality.
If there is anything that seniors can do to prevent this, then exercises to improve balance is one of the most important.
How Can Balance Exercises Help Seniors?
More than 55% of older adults struggle with osteoporosis in some form or another. This bone disease can affect balance, and yet, in a study on 60 women, balance training was shown to improve the mobility of the participants and prevent the risk of a fall.
A healthy diet along with physical exercise can improve balance, even as we get older, and there are many ways that these exercises can promote good physical health.
As we have discovered, seniors who regularly perform balance exercises are at a much lower risk of struggling with bone conditions such as osteoporosis. When you exercise, more weight is placed on the bones, and in turn, this will strengthen them and improve their function.
Assists with Muscle Function
Our muscles naturally become weaker as we get older, but this can be somewhat prevented through exercise. If your muscle strength is lacking, this will affect your mobility, and this may also contribute to your risk of falling.
However, research has shown that, with regular balance training, muscle function and strength was improved. What is even more interesting is that the participants were also able to walk more freely, demonstrating that mobility is positively impacted through this type of exercise.
Improves Cardiovascular Health
There is a direct link between exercise and good cardiovascular health but what is important is that having a healthy heart can help towards limiting the risk of falls. This is because seniors are less likely to experience dizzy spells, which is a leading cause of falls in the USA.
Reduces the Risk of Slips & Falls
Improving your balance and overall physical ability will help to reduce the risk of slipping and falling. With so many American seniors suffering falls every year, these simple exercises could bring that worrying figure right down.
Maintaining a healthy weight is important no matter what stage of life you are at. However, when we reach our golden years, this is even more essential as our bodies are more susceptible to the effects of obesity. Doing regular exercise will burn calories and, provided you are eating a healthy diet, will also contribute to staying at a healthy weight.
Maintain Cognitive Ability
It’s no secret that many older adults suffer from a decline in their cognitive ability. But did you know that regular physical exercise can play a role in boosting your cognition? Exercise has been proven to keep your cognitive ability sharp. It has also been discovered that regular physical activity may provide a boost for people who have experienced memory decline.
When we exercise, hormones called endorphins are released by the brain, and these hormones make us feel good. They are the same hormones that are released during other pleasurable activities such as eating certain foods and during sex. The sudden burst of endorphins can instantly lift your mood, and when this occurs regularly, you will find that your overall mood is stabilized and positive.
Faster Reaction Times
We have already touched upon the fact that exercise improves blood flow to the brain, and this has more than just a single benefit. This increased blood flow has been shown to improve reaction times which could potentially help you to avoid accidents by being able to react more swiftly.
Best Exercise Activities to Maintain Strength & Balance
No matter what your preference or level of ability, there will be a kind of exercise that is accessible for you. It is worth looking at whether there are available classes in your local area or perhaps choosing smartphone apps to guide you through sessions in the comfort of your own home.
Tai Chi & Pilates
For older adults that are looking for very gentle exercise, tai chi and pilates are an excellent choice. There have been plenty of studies that demonstrate these two forms of exercise are effective in improving balance, with one showing that tai chi can also reduce the anxiety of falling. Pilates has also been shown to reduce the risk of falling.
Tai chi is great for seniors who have limited mobility or movement as it is an incredibly relaxed art form. Yet the muscle strengthening that can be achieved is impressive.
Yoga is another gentle exercise, although there are branches such as Bikram yoga or ashtanga. But whatever your physical ability, there will be a form that suits you. Yoga doesn’t only improve your balance and strength, but it will also calm the mind and improve your mental health.
Moreover, yoga has been proven to promote healthy aging which will in turn limit your risk of falling, owing to better physical strength and balance. There have also been trials conducted that have had positive outcomes for people where balance is concerned.
Other benefits include improved sleep, lower stress levels, bone strength, and pain relief from common aches and ailments.
Dancing is not only great exercise, but it can also be incredibly therapeutic and fun. There are many different types of dancing so you can choose something that appeals to you; the important thing is to get up and move. Research into the effects of dance on balance has delivered some promising results, with participants in trials showing marked improvement in balance.
You have likely heard people say that walking is the best form of exercise and it also provides you with the opportunity to get out and about. Including walking as part of your daily exercise will help to improve heart health and of course, will improve your balance and strength as well as having a positive impact on your overall fitness.
Walking can be a social exercise, and if you have a friend or family member who would like to join you, you will both reap the benefits. It gives you the chance to explore new places and discover the world, which is important in your later years as it will help prevent isolation and loneliness.
Working out in water is an excellent option for seniors as the water takes a lot of your weight and makes moving easier, even for those with mobility issues.
While there is limited evidence to suggest that water aerobics, as a standalone exercise, will reduce the risk of falls, there is sufficient evidence to show that the activity will improve overall fitness, which, in turn, can count towards a reduction in the chance of a fall. This type of workout is also excellent for improving muscle strength, which, as we have learned, will also lower the risk of slips and falls.
Much like water aerobics, swimming is ideal for seniors who may find exercising outside of the water challenging. When compared with working out on dry land, swimming was shown to better improve balance through things like greater muscle strength.
Recommended Level of Physical Activity for Seniors
Before beginning any type of exercise routine, you should always speak to a healthcare practitioner. They will be able to provide you with the best advice, especially if you have a medical condition that may limit your ability to perform certain exercises.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it is recommended that seniors should be taking at least 150 minutes of physical exercise each week. However, if you are involved in vigorous aerobic workouts, this time can be reduced to 75 minutes. When taking part in aerobic exercise, you should limit each bout to 10 minutes.
To prevent falls, it is also suggested that seniors perform balance exercises on at least three days of each week. You should include strengthening exercises on at least two days of the week. These exercises will have many benefits, including improved sleep, greater energy levels, and give you a boost of self-esteem.
The problem is that many older adults do not have the physical ability to perform this level of exercise. If this sounds familiar, we would recommend taking part in as much physical activity as possible. You may find that, over time, you can increase what you do. If you feel a little insecure about beginning a routine later in life, rest assured that it is never too late to start exercising, and you will see plenty of benefits.
Simple Balance & Strength Exercises to Do at Home
Getting started with exercise may feel a little overwhelming, but there is no need to be concerned. There are a lot of simple balance and strength exercises that you can do at home. These simple and easy-to-do exercises can help to build muscle strength and reduce the risk of slips and falls while improving your coordination.
1. Heal-to-Toe Walk
Performing a heel to toe walk will help to improve your balance; it is one of the best exercises for this. It will also aid in building muscle strength.
Step 1: Put the right foot in front of your left foot with the right heels against the left toes.
Step 2: Now switch sides, with the left heel in front, touching your right toes.
Step 3: Repeat the pattern 10 to 20 times while looking straight-ahead.
2. Sideways Walking
Sideways walking changes the way you move and therefore works out a different set of muscles than when you walk in a straight line.
Step 1: Begin with the feet pressed together, keeping your knees slightly bent and unlocked.
Step 2: Now move one foot to the side without bending at the hips.
Step 3: Once you are steady, move the next foot to join it.
Step 4: Repeat up to 10 times.
Known to be particularly beneficial to those suffering with MS, the grapevine is a simple yet effective exercise. The grapevine targets several areas including the glutes, legs, and core muscles. It will give you greater agility and help you to avoid tripping.
Step 1: Begin by standing with your feet together.
Step 2: Next, cross the right foot over the left.
Step 3: Now bring your left foot to join the right.
Step 4: Repeat five times before attempting moving in the opposite direction.
4. Tightrope Walk
If you are looking to improve your posture and balance, then the tightrope walk is a good option. This exercise will also help to target your leg and core muscles.
Step 1: Stand up straight with the feet one in front of the other with the heel of the front foot touching the toes of the back foot.
Step 2: Now move the back foot to the front.
Step 3: Keep repeating this while keeping your eyes up and forward.
Step 4: You can hold your arms out to challenge yourself more.
Sit to stand, also known as chair squats, is a simple exercise that will benefit your bones, joints, and muscles in the lower body.
Step 1: Start by sitting in a chair, and remain upright.
Step 2: Now push yourself up to a standing position. If you can do this without using your arms, then do.
Step 3: Repeat the exercise for 30 seconds before taking a short break. You can continue for as long as you feel comfortable. If you feel as though you cannot complete the full cycle, bending the knees will be sufficient until you are able to sit and stand the entire way.
6. Stair Steps
Not only are stair steps great for improving strength and balance but they are also an aerobic workout which can benefit the cardiovascular system. Lower body strength will be particularly improved when performed regularly.
Step 1: You can use either a staircase or a step.
Step 2: Begin by standing in front of the step and lifting your right foot up onto it.
Step 3: Now follow with the left foot.
Step 4: Next, move the right foot back down, followed by the left foot.
Step 5: You can do this exercise in bursts of up to 60 seconds, with a short break between rounds. For more of a challenge, you might perform stair steps while holding weights.
7. Rock the Boat
Rock the boat is an exercise that works very well for improving balance. However, when performed more intensely, it can also provide a cardio workout.
Step 1: Position yourself with the feet at hip distance and raise the arms out to the sides.
Step 2: Take the right foot and raise it off the floor while bending the knee and slowing bringing your leg up.
Step 3: Try to keep the position for up to 30 seconds.
Step 4: Return the foot to the floor and repeat on the right side. You can repeat on each side up to three times per session, or more, if you feel able to do so.
8. Wall Push-Ups
Wall push-ups are a type of strength exercise that is excellent for people looking to also improve their balance. They are great for maintaining upper body strength and bone density.
Step 1: Begin by finding a stable wall and stand one arm’s length in front of it, facing into the wall.
Step 2: Place your hands onto the wall, keeping them in line with the shoulders.
Step 3: Ensure that the feet remain on the floor as you lean your body into the wall.
Step 4: Now use your arm strength to push back to an upright position. If you want the exercise to be more challenging, you can move the feet further back.
Step 5: Repeat the exercise up to 10 times, ensuring a short break between rounds.
9. One-Leg Standing
There are several benefits to regularly performing one leg standing, which is also known as the stork. These include improved balance and better bone strength.
Step 1: Find a stable wall and stand facing it with the arms outstretched.
Step 2: Place the fingertips against the wall.
Step 3: Keeping the hips straight, lift one leg to a right angle in front of you.
Step 4: Hold the leg here for between 5 and 10 seconds before returning it to the ground.
Step 5: Repeat the exercise three times on both the left and right sides.
10. Heel/Calf Raising
Heel/calf raising is a simple and effective exercise that will improve muscle strength in the lower body as well as helping to improve balance.
Step 1: Using a stable chair for support, rest your hands on the back. (you can perform this without support, if you feel able to do so).
Step 2: Slowly raise the heels off the ground while keeping the toes and forefront firmly on the floor.
Step 3: Gently lower back down.
Step 4: Repeat the exercise 5 times.
11. Flamingo Stand
The flamingo stand is beneficial where balance is concerned, but this is also an exercise that will vastly improve your core strength.
Step 1: With the weight on the right foot, slowly raise the left foot out to the front.
Step 2: Try to remain in this stance for between 10 and 15 seconds. If you want more of a challenge, you can reach your hands out to the front at the same time.
Step 3: Bring the foot back down and shake the legs.
Step 4: Now repeat on the other side up to three times.
12. Bicep Curls
Doing regular bicep curls will help to improve your elbow function. Not only this, but it will enable you to lift items and improve your overall arm strength.
Step 1: Choose a pair of weights; they should be light enough for you to comfortably lift.
Step 2: Begin with both arms at your sides.
Step 3: Now bend at the elbows until your weights touch your shoulders.
Step 4: Lower the arms back down.
Step 5: Repeat up to five times on each side.