13 Balance Exercises for Seniors
DISCLAIMER: Speak to your doctor before starting any exercise program. There are risks associated with exercise. You are responsible for ensuring safety and knowing personal limitations. All exercises in this article are to be done at your own risk.
Written by Ashley Gelhaus, ACSM-CPT & reviewed/edited by Katie Dodd, MS, RDN, CSG, LD, FAND
Ashley is a ACSM Certified Personal Trainer. She has a B.S. Exercise Science and Pre Health Professions. She is currently pursing her Masters degree in dietetics.
Balance Exercises for Seniors
Seniors are at a higher risk for falls. And falls can be quite dangerous with advancing age. While it’s important to be cautious, fear of falling shouldn’t limit seniors from doing the things they love to do. Balance exercises for seniors can help reduce the risk of falls and provide seniors more freedom.
This blog will cover the prevalence of falls in older adults (including the fact that imbalance is a large predictor of fall risk!), why balance is important, and then will review some balance exercises. We will look at the 13 best exercises seniors can do to improve balance and reduce risk of falls!
As a reminder, speak to your doctor before starting any exercise program. All exercises in this article are to be done at your own risk.
Fall Risk in Older Adults
I am sure it is no surprise that one of the leading causes of injuries in the aging population is… drum roll please… Falls! You guessed it.
To support this claim, here are some statistics. Over 33% of adults over the age of 65 fall at least once a year. Of those that fall, 50% will have recurrent fall (meaning they fall again). Those with neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, are at even higher risk.1 And as one continues to age, the rate of falls can increase up to 60%.2
On top of that, older adults in health care facilities (i.e. nursing homes or some type of older adult living home) experience even more falls.2
Why is this important? Because falls can lead to severe fractures and injuries! And older adults have a greater risk of both. As one ages they lose bone density and muscle mass. Strong bones and muscle protect individuals when they are younger from getting serious injuries. Due to the natural decrease in bone and muscle mass, older adults are more prone to get an injury from falling. And it will take them a lot longer to recover, if they fully recover at all.2,3
It is so important to prepare and take measures to prevent falls from happening. This includes determining the best action steps you can take to protect yourselves from falls and injury.
Importance of Balance in Older Adults
So, how do you take an active step to prevent falls if the natural aging process makes it harder and harder to do so? The most important thing a senior can do to prevent falls is to engage in balance training!
Balance training consists of certain exercises that target muscles that assist in maintaining upright posture and equilibrium. These exercises result in muscle growth, increased strength, and improved balance to help prevent imbalance and therefore prevent falls.2,4
Research has shown that a tailored balance and resistance training program can improve fall risk factors including muscle strength, power, and balance performance.2 Exercise programs that challenge your balance and are done frequently were seen to reduce fall risk by 16%!3,5
Recommendations for Balance Training
Here are some general recommendations for getting started with balance exercises for seniors.
1) Exercise should be ongoing and enough to be effective.3
The greatest improvement in balance has been shown with training over a period of 11-12 weeks with about 3 sessions a week, each lasting about 30-45 minutes. Continual, extended exercise is the best way to train your muscles and body to improve your balance.4 Consistency is Key!
2) Exercise needs to provide a moderate to high challenge to one’s balance.3
Exercises should aim to challenge balance in 3 ways:
- Reduce Base of Support
- Changing position of Center of Gravity
- Reduce need for upper limb support (such as holding on for support)
3) You can take group based classes such as Tai Chi or utilize a home based program.3
4) Inclusion of Strength Training May Benefit One’s Balance.3
Reduced muscle strength is an important risk factor for falls. Therefore, maintaining and increasing muscle strength by overloading the muscles may help with fall prevention.4
13 Balance Exercises for Seniors
These exercises start off with more beginner options and move up to more advanced options. Wherever you are at is okay! Do not push yourself and risk falling from doing these exercises. Many exercises offer certain progressions to make it more difficult or certain modifications to make it a little easier. Do what is best for your body.
Again, make sure to talk to your physician or personal trainer before starting any exercise program to ensure and always do exercises safely with a chair or something to hold onto nearby.
1) Tandem Stance
- Stand one foot directly in front of the other and hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute or as long as you can. Repeat with other foot in front.
- Progression: eyes closed, stand on foam pad/folded towel.
- Modification: stand feet slightly apart or hold onto something next to you, just have fingertips touching.
2) Stork Stance
- Stand on one foot and kick the other foot behind you. Hold this position for 30 seconds to 1 minute or as long as you can. Repeat for both feet.
- Progression: eyes closed, stand on foam pad/ folded towel.
- Modification: have toe of lifted foot just touching the ground, hold onto something, have fingertips touching the bar only.
3) Stork Stance with Bicep Curl
- Stand on one foot and kick the other foot behind you.
- In each hand hold two small dumbbells or cans if at home.
- Complete 15 bicep curls and then repeat on the other leg.
- Modification: touch toe slightly on floor behind you for more balance.
4) Tandem Stance with Torso Twist
- Stand one foot directly in front of the other, holding hands/some type of weight directly in front of you.
- Slowly twist from one side to the other. Complete 20 rotations and then switch with the other foot in front.
- Progression: add weights or hold something that is weighted.
- Modification: have feet slightly spread apart.
5) Tandem Stance with Cross Body Punches
- Stand with one foot directly in front of the other. Punch arms alternately across body for 20 punches.
- Repeat with the other foot in front.
- Progression: add weights for punches.
- Modification: have feet slightly spread apart.
6) March and Hold Leg at the Top
- Either march in place or walk across the room.
- As you march and pick one leg up hold it up for 5 seconds before setting it back down and picking up the other foot. Take your time!
- Modification: do alongside a wall or rail so there is something to hold onto at all times.
7) Single Arm Overhead Press
- Stand feet firmly planted under you about shoulder width apart.
- With a weight in one hand at shoulder height, palm facing out, slowly extend your arm above your head, pressing the weight upward and then bring back down.
- Repeat 15 times and then switch arms.
- Focus on keeping core nice and tight and posture upright.
8) Shoulder Press in Lunge Stance
- Step one leg back and pull knee down into lunge stance. Legs should be making 90 degree angles.
- Have small weights in each hand at shoulder level. Stay down in lunge position while pressing both arms up at the same time above your head.
- Repeat 10 times before coming out of lunge position and repeating with the other leg in front.
9) Hip Flexion, Abduction, Extension
- Firmly plant one foot on the ground and with the other leg pick up into a march position (flexion), bring it back down to center, swing leg straight out to the side (abduction), bring back down to center, and then extend leg straight back trying to keep leg as straight as possible (extension) and then bring back to center.
- Try to accomplish without holding onto anything to practice balance.
- Repeat 10 times on each leg.
- Modification: hold onto something.
10) Alternating Forward Stepping Lunges
- Start with feet firmly planted under you about shoulder width apart. Alternate stepping one foot forward and dropping into a lunge position with legs at 90 degrees. Repeat for 10 times each leg.
- Progression: add torso twist when lunge forward.
- When lunge forward, twist to the opposite side of the leg that stepped forward and alternate legs.
- Progression: hold weights when go into torso twist.
- Hold weight chest height directly in front of you and continue as described previously.
11) Single Leg Squat
- Plant one foot firmly on the ground beneath you, have the other leg slightly bent or straight out in front of you.
- Slowly sink down into squat position (doesn’t have to be really deep) and come back up.
- Repeat 10 times and then switch to other leg.
12) Side Lunge into Stork Stance
- Start with both legs firmly planted beneath you, shoulder length apart. Take one leg out to the side into a side lunge.
- When you come back, push off of leg and pull it into a stork stance and repeat.
- Complete 10-15 repetitions on each side.
- Progression: use weights for cross body chop (starting at knee in side lunge and coming up into shoulder press as come into stork).
13) Single Leg Deadlift
- Start with one leg firmly planted on the ground beneath you and the other bent up behind you.
- Slowly bend over and slightly bend knee while sticking lifted leg out behind you. Stop when hand comes to knee level and then rise back up.
- Repeat 10-15 times on each leg.
- Start no weights.
- Progression: add weights to opposite arm of leg on the ground.
- Modification: hold on to something with opposite hand.
Seated Balance Exercises for Seniors
The 13 exercises above are great, but what if you aren’t at the level yet? Even if you are physically unable to stand up and do some of these exercises you can still work to improve your balance! Seated balance exercises can help!
As much as you can (and as you progress), try and get out of the chair and start off by holding onto something. When standing we are truly challenging our balance. However, if that is not possible, here are some options!
1) Seated Leg Extension
- Start both feet planted on the floor.
- With one leg slowly and controlled kick up to full extension and back down.
- Repeat on same leg for 15 times and then switch legs.
- Progression: holding arms at shoulder height, as you kick out leg punch opposite arm straight out in front of you and continue alternating sides.
2) Torso Rotations
- Preferably with a weighted object held at chest level straight out in front of you.
- Rotate side to side, slow and controlled, engaging core muscles to bring arms back to center each time.
- Alternate sides, 10 times each side.
3) Seated Marches
- Keeping posture upright, alternate picking up feet into march and hold for 2-3 seconds at the top of each march.
- Alternate legs, repeating 10 times each leg.
- Progression: hold arms straight out to the side the entire time.
- Progression: Hold arms at 90 degrees at shoulder height. When you lift one leg up into march, rotate torso and bring opposite elbow to knee and come back to center and repeat with other side. Repeat 10 times each side.
4) Toe Touches
- Sit forward on your chair with both feet planted on the floor and holding your arms straight out to your sides.
- Take one arm and reach across body to touch opposite toe, slowly bending forward and then slowly coming back to center.
- Alternate sides. Repeating 10 times each side.
Benefits of Being Balanced
Having good balance allows seniors to enjoy all the daily activities they would need and want to do! Having good balance improves ease of movement in any activity. It helps to prevent injury, especially in the older population.
The more seniors actively work towards improving strength and balance, the longer they will be able to enjoy activities like going for a walk, bending over to pick something up, playing with grandkids, and move without worrying about falls or injury.
- Gerards MHG, McCrum C, Mansfield A, Meijer K. Perturbation-based balance training for falls reduction among older adults: Current evidence and implications for clinical practice. Geriatr Gerontol Int. 2017;17(12):2294-2303. doi:10.1111/ggi.13082
- Gschwind YJ, Kressig RW, Lacroix A, Muehlbauer T, Pfenninger B, Granacher U. A best practice fall prevention exercise program to improve balance, strength / power, and psychosocial health in older adults: Study protocol for a randomized controlled trial. BMC Geriatr. 2013;13(1):1-13. doi:10.1186/1471-2318-13-105
- Sherrington C, Michaleff ZA, Fairhall N, et al. Exercise to prevent falls in older adults: An updated systematic review and meta-analysis. Br J Sports Med. 2017;51(24):1749-1757. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2016-096547
- Lesinski M, Hortobágyi T, Muehlbauer T, Gollhofer A, Granacher U. Effects of Balance Training on Balance Performance in Healthy Older Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Sport Med. 2015;45(12):1721-1738. doi:10.1007/s40279-015-0375-y
- Liu-Ambrose T, Davis JC, Best JR, et al. Effect of a Home-Based Exercise Program on Subsequent Falls among Community-Dwelling High-Risk Older Adults after a Fall: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA – J Am Med Assoc. 2019;321(21):2092-2100. doi:10.1001/jama.2019.5795