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5 Key Exercises to Improve Balance and Prevent Falls

 Exercise is the key to a fulfilling and independent life as a senior. Strengthening the lower body, in particular, is of utmost importance. This is because the loss of control and mobility in the lower body and the reduction of muscle mass in the legs and hips dramatically increase the risk of falls, which, in turn, can lead to serious injuries.
In fact, falls are the leading cause of injuries among the elderly and the main reason for trauma-related emergency room visits in the senior population. Fortunately, exercise can dramatically lower one’s risk of falls no matter when you start - at the age of 7 or 70.
Balance Exercises active elderly man
Research has shown that doing balance exercises only twice a week for two years can dramatically reduce the risk of falls, but you’ll start experiencing the benefits much sooner than that. The routine we’re about to show includes 5 easy exercises that work to strengthen the lower body and improve your mobility and sense of balance. Best of all, it only takes 5-7 minutes of your time, and it is specifically built with seniors in mind.

1. Sit-to-Stand

You’d be surprised to learn just how many people fail to sit down and stand up correctly, potentially hurting their lower back. Learning to sit down and stand up correctly and exercising the skill regularly has immense health benefits. On one hand, it reduces your risk of back injury and back pain.

On the other hand, the sit-to-stand exercise is essentially an easier and safer version of squats or the chair pose in yoga, which means that it is guaranteed to strengthen the leg, core, and back muscles over time. Lastly, this functional exercise also increases one’s mobility in the hips and knees.

Follow these steps to do the exercise correctly and view the video above for a visual guide:

1. Sit in a chair with your feet back, NOT in front of the knees.
2. Your knees should be about hip-width apart or slightly wider to give you a stable base.
3. With a straight spine and pushing with your legs upwards, stand up and then sit down. Try to keep the center of balance on your legs at all times in order to exercise the leg and core muscles and avoid hurting your lower back.

Repeat the exercise 8-10 times or less if you feel tired. You can also use a chair with armrests to make the exercise easier.

Related Article: 6 Persistent Myths about Exercising in Your Golden Years

2. Heel Lifts

This exercise will help you strengthen and maintain the stability of the ankles, which is sure to improve your balance over time. In addition, this exercise strengthens the calf muscles and the arches of the feet. Follow these steps to do the exercise correctly and view the video above for a visual guide:

1. Place a chair in front of you to hold onto and make it easier for you to balance. 
2. Raise your heels and stand up on your tiptoes. Hold for up to 15 seconds, and then place your heels back on the ground.
3. Now lift your toes, and hold once again for up to 15 seconds. Alternate between the two positions, repeating each cycle 3 times.

3. Ankle Circles

Having completed some exercises that focused on your feet and ankles, it’s time to give your ankles a rest and some much-needed relief. Ankle circles are an excellent in-between exercise, as the circular movements help lubricate the joints and relieve any muscle tension. Therefore, you can repeat this exercise whenever you feel that your feet got tired in the middle of the exercise, or even after sitting for a long time. To complete this exercise, view the instructional video above, and follow these steps:

1. In a sitting position, roll one of your ankles clockwise 8-10 times.
2. Now reverse and start moving the same ankle counter-clockwise for 8-10 repetitions.  
3. Repeat the same exercise on the other ankle.

4. Heel-to-Toe Standing

The heel-to-toe stand looks very simple, but this exercise is actually on the more challenging side in terms of balance, so make sure to do it next to a chair or any other sturdy surface. Apart from improving the balance, this exercise strengthens your hips, knees, ankles, feet, and core, and it also helps boost your focus.

In order to complete this exercise, view the instructional video above, and follow these steps:

1. Find a sturdy surface like a kitchen counter or a chair to hold onto for balance. Stand placing your feet heel-to-toe so that the toe of the back foot is in line with and directly in front of the heel of the front foot.
2. Hold the position for up to 15 seconds, and then alternate the feet. Repeat up to 4 times on each side. 

If this position is challenging, you can adjust the stance somewhat wider or longer, and play with the center of balance, shifting it either to the front leg, the back leg, or somewhere in-between.

Related Article: Recommended Fitness Regimens for All Ages from Experts

5. Raising One Foot at a Time

This is the last exercise in this regimen. The advantage of it is that you can adjust its complexity, do it with or without a chair, and even while lying in bed if you’d like. Leg raises improve the sense of balance and the mobility of the lower body by strengthening a variety of muscles in the body, including the lower abdominal muscles, the glutes, the calf muscles, and the hamstrings.

Over time, the exercise also helps lose weight from the lower belly and the legs. To complete this exercise, view the instructional video above, and follow these steps:

1. Stand near a chair or any other sturdy surface you can hold onto with both or one hand.
2. Slowly lift one foot off the ground, making sure that the lifted foot isn’t touching the other leg and the hip doesn’t drop. Hold for up to 10 seconds.
3. Repeat the same exercise on the other side. 

Don’t worry if one of the legs is weaker than the other, that’s normal and it happens with most people. If you want to practice the same exercise lying down, start off by lying down with the legs bent, lifting each leg only slightly for 10 seconds, no need to straighten the lifted leg.

Repeating these exercises regularly will help improve your balance, which will surely make you more independent while also reducing your risk of a fall.

Balance Exercises older couple on a walk
To lower that risk of a fall even further, it is also recommended to make the necessary adjustments in your home, such as removing tripping hazards like rugs, electrical cords, low furniture, or loose footwear that falls off your feet. It’s also advisable to install railings in high-risk areas such as the shower and the staircase and keep all rooms well lit when you’re moving around the house.
Lastly, it’s crucial to wear the right glasses and even hearing aids if you’re prone to falls, as both vision loss and hearing loss can make you more prone to falls. With all these tips in place, you’ll stay strong and stable for years to come, we wish you great health!
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