Nearly 1 in 3 adults over age 65 will fall each year. It’s no surprise that falling is the number one cause of injury among senior adults.
Falls can lead to serious injury for seniors including hip fractures or other broken bones, head injury, brain injury, and even death.
The good news is that falls can be prevented with the right approach. You can lower your risk of falling with exercise, stretches, and balance training.
How to Improve Balance
As a Physical Therapist, I’ve helped thousands of older adults improve balance with exercises, stretches, and balance training programs.
Almost everyone replies YES when I ask them, “Does your balance feel off lately?”
The big question I hear is this: Can my balance improve?
The answer is a resounding yes! Your balance can improve whether you’re 45, 65, or 95 years old!
Don’t Forget to Download the Balance Exercise PDF
Here are the best ways to improve your balance:
Exercises- Exercises for balance that focus on strengthening the muscles in your legs, core, and arms can lead to significant improvements in your balance. There are many exercises to improve balance and 12 that I highly recommend for seniors (see below).
Stretching – Improving your flexibility can result in better balance. Stretches can also help improve your posture which can lead to greater stability and improved balance
Mobility Training – Joint stiffness can lead to poor mobility, which you’ve probably noticed at times when you get up and down from a chair. Improving mobility can lead to improved balance and coordination.
If you’re curious about the balance research that supports this, you can find the references at the bottom of the article. Nothing like science to back up the importance of balance exercises!
Top 12 Balance Exercises for Seniors
In almost every balance exercise handout I give to my patients I include a variation of these exercises to improve balance.
While these are very common exercises for balance, you should progress with advanced balance exercises over time. (You can see a full list of these in the balance exercises pdf you can download for free here.)
Single Leg Stance
Instructions: Start with your feet at hip width. While holding onto a counter, lift one foot off the ground slightly. Keep your body tall and avoid leaning onto the planted foot.
Progress this exercise by transitioning to one hand support and eventually no hand support. It’s always good to perform near a sturdy counter in case you need to quickly catch your balance.
Hold for 10 to 15 seconds on each leg. Perform 5 times on each leg.
Why this is important: This is an essential balance exercise because we stand on one leg every time we take a step or walk up and down stairs! Don’t underestimate the importance of the single leg stance exercise!
Foot Taps to Step or Cone
Instructions: Stand tall facing a step or cone. Beginners should use support from a counter or handrail until your balance improves.
In a controlled motion, lift one foot and tap the cone or step for one second and return to your starting position. As you repeat this motion, you should focus on consistency and control with each tap.
Perform 10 repetitions on each leg. Repeat 2 to 3 times.
This exercise is important because it helps with coordination on stairs. How many times have you caught yourself tripping on a step? If you or someone you know has stairs, this is a great balance exercise.
Narrow Stance Reaches
Instructions: Begin with your feet together or as close as you can while feeling safe. Stand tall and reach forward with one hand while holding onto a counter or solid surface for safety.
Alternate arms as you reach forward. Progress by reaching with both hands forwards. You can make this more challenging by reaching out to the side or in varying directions.
Perform 10 reaches with each arm. Repeat 2 to 3 times.
This balance exercise is important because many falls take place while reaching for an item in a tight space.
3 Way Hip Kick
Instructions: Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. While holding onto a counter or firm surface, extend your leg forward and return to your starting position. Repeat this motion to the side returning to the starting position each time. Finally, extend your leg back and return it to the starting position.
Perform each motion 5 to 10 times on each leg. Repeat 2 to 3 times.
This exercise builds strength in the hip muscles which are important for maintaining stability with walking, turning, and going up and down steps.
Instructions: Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. While holding onto a counter or firm surface, raise one leg in a marching motion. Alternate legs and progress difficulty by performing without holding onto the counter or chair.
Focus on smooth, controlled movements and keep your body tall to avoid leaning side to side.
Perform 20 marches (10 on each leg). Repeat 2 to 3 times.
This exercise is great for improving hip strength and single leg balance. If your feet ever catch the ground while you’re walking, you’ll benefit from this exercise!
Instructions: Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. While holding onto a counter or firm surface, step forward and allow your front knee to bend slightly. Return to your starting position and repeat with the opposite leg.
The lunge does not need to be deep. If you experience increased knee or hip pain, modify this exercise by holding onto a counter and taking a smaller step.
Perform 10 mini lunges on each leg. Repeat 2 to 3 times.
This is a helpful balance exercise because it strengthens the legs while simulating a forward stepping motion. If you ever feel like you sometimes stumble forwards, this exercise will help you to practice catching yourself before you actually fall!
Instructions: Stand with your feet together. While holding onto a counter or firm surface, step to the side so your feet are just past shoulder width. Continue this motion along a counter, performing 5 to 10 steps on each side.
Perform 5 to 10 steps. Repeat 2 to 3 times.
We are constantly turning and sidestepping throughout the day. Unfortunately, this is how many older adults fall. This exercise helps you to become more coordinated with turns and stepping in tight spaces.
Instructions: Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. While holding onto a counter, perform a squatting motion like you are about to sit down. It can be helpful to position a chair behind you for safety and accuracy.
Perform 10 squats. Repeat 2 to 3 times.
If you’ve ever felt unstable when sitting or standing up from a chair, this is a great exercise to build strength and coordination!
Tandem or Semi-Tandem Stance
Instructions: Stand with one foot in front of the other so you are in a ‘heel-toe’ position. If this is too difficult initially, move your feet apart slightly. Use a counter or chair as support if you need.
Hold this position for 10 seconds on each side. Repeat 2 to 3 times.
This balance exercise is great to practice because it puts your body into a narrow stance. With a decreased base of support, you are challenging your muscles to keep you centered!
Instructions: Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. While holding onto a counter or firm surface, lift your heels off the ground. You should feel most of the pressure on the front of your feet like you’re standing on your toe.
It’s ok to put pressure into the counter with your hands at first. Make sure you stay tall and avoid leaning. Progress this exercise by applying less pressure with your arms and eventually performing without holding counter.
Perform 10 repetitions. Repeat 2 to 3 times.
Calf strength is important for balance because this muscle controls our ankle position. When we feel unsteady or need to correct our balance, we use our ankle muscles to reposition our body. Stronger calf muscles can lead to better balance!
Hamstring Stretch (Standing or Sitting)
Instructions: Stand with your leg on a step or on the ground slightly in front of your body. Keep your back straight and gently lean forward feeling a stretch in the back of the thigh and knee.
Another way to stretch the hamstring is to sit and extend your leg, leaning forward until you feel a gentle pulling sensation.
Hold each stretch for 10 to 20 seconds. Repeat 2 to 3 times on both legs.
This is an important exercise for improving balance because the hamstrings can become very tight as we age. This usually happens due to sitting for prolonged periods. Improving flexibility in the hamstrings can help to decrease cramping or spasms in the hamstring when you first stand up.
Instructions: Stand with your foot against a step and gently lean forward while holding onto the railing or a countertop. You should feel a gentle pulling in your calf or ankle as you hold for 10 to 20 seconds. Avoid bouncing or rocking back and forth.
Hold this stretch for 10 to 20 seconds each leg. Repeat 2 to 3 times.
Stretching the calf can help relieve soreness and cramps in the lower leg. If you ever experienced a charlie horse in your leg that almost took you off your feet, this calf stretch is a great exercise to perform!
Balance Exercises for Elderly
I work with people who are in their mid to late 80’s and 90’s and balance is always a priority of our treatment.
When I design balance exercises for elderly patients, I focus on sitting balance, standing balance, and dynamic balance.
Sitting Balance Exercises for Elderly
It’s important to have good balance in a variety of chairs or surfaces like your bed or even the toilet. Often times, standing from a chair can feel unbalanced because someone has poor sitting balance.
Our next balance PDF handout goes into even more detail on these essential seated balance exercises examples:
- Seated Marches
- Alternating arm/leg reaches
- Head turns with minimal support
- Trunk rotation and flexion training
- Sit to stand
Standing Balance Exercises for Elderly
Our risk for falls is highest within the first few seconds of standing. This is why it’s so important to work on standing balance exercises. Some of the following standing balance exercises are described in more detail above as well as in the balance exercise PDF.
- Single leg stance
- Rhomberg balance stance
- Tandem / Semi-Tandem stance
- Hip Kicks (Side and Back)
- Step Ups
- Sit to stand
Dynamic Balance Exercises for Elderly
I consider dynamic balance training to involve multiple moving parts. This can include standing on a single leg while reaching up or out with an arm. Dynamic balance exercises are so important because they can improve many of our day to day activities like dressing, bathing, cooking, and cleaning.
- Step up with cone taps
- Reaching from single leg or rhomberg stance
- Lateral step up
- Half forward lunge with arm reaches
- Squat with press up
Of course, these balance exercise examples are beneficial for people of all ages. But as a physical therapist who works with older adults, I find these to be very helpful for the elderly population.
Exercises to Improve Balance
Why Should Senior Citizens Perform Balance Exercises?
Balance exercises reduce the risk of falls in seniors. Our balance affects every aspect of our day, from walking to reaching shelves in the kitchen. Improve your balance and you improve your independence and confidence.
Quick Note on Balance Exercise Equipment
While you can perform most balance exercises without equipment, there are products that can help your balance if used correctly.
Two of the most common pieces of balance exercise equipment I use include:
- GREAT FOR BALANCE TRAINING: Improves core strength, posture, enhances coordination, sense of balance and visual sense. Great to strengthen the...
- DURABLE, NON SLIP SURFACE: Premium Wooden Balance Board with anti-skid pad on the surface provides a secure grip for absolute safety. 15.75 inch...
- 360 DEGREE ROTATION and 15 DEGREE TILTING ANGLE: 360 degrees rotation and up to 15 tilting degree, great to perform side to side, front to back,...
- VERSATILE, COMPACT BALANCE BOARD: With the lightweight, portable design, this balance board is great for Balance Exercises, Home Gyms, Gyms, Sport...
- BUILT TO LAST: Get a quick start on optimizing your health -- every box we ship contains an Exercise Ball that inflates using the hand pump that goes...
- HEAVY DUTY ANTI-BURST RATING CAN MATCH ANY HEAVYWEIGHT: Our Exercise Ball is manufactured using gym quality standards. When used properly, it can...
- THICK PVC CASING PROVIDES OPTIMUM PUNCTURE RESISTANCE: Packed with non-toxic PVC material, our stability balls have a thickness of 1,877 micrometers...
- NON-SLIP RIBBED BODY STAYS PUT WITH SKIN CONTACT: The PVC body has a matte surface with horizontal ribs contoured all around it -- making it easy to...
Let’s look at a few exercises you can do with each of these items.
Balance Board Exercises
One of the most popular products to improve balance involves using a balance board. Balance boards are used in therapy clinics to help improve stability and can also be used to promote flexibility in the calf muscles.
For about $25, you can find a balance board on Amazon or even make your own balance board if you have the right tools.
Here are a few balance board exercises I do with my patients:
- Front back rocking
- Side to side rocking
- Squats on board
- Single leg control
- Isometric squat with ball press
- Overhead reaching in squat position
- Medicine ball pass on balance board
Balance Ball Exercises
Some people refer to these as ‘swiss ball’, stability ball, or balance ball exercises. Stability ball exercises can be very effective for improving dynamic balance, core strengthening, and even decreasing aches and pains.
What size stability ball is right for me? You’ll find a wide range of sizes for balance and stability balls, generally starting from 25 cm for petite users to 75 cm for larger adults. Here’s a general guideline for purchasing a stability ball.
Stability Ball Size Chart
|Height||Stability Ball Size|
|Less than 4’ 6’’ or 137 cm||30 cm|
|4’ 6’’ to 5’ tall (137 to 152 cm)||45 cm|
|5’ to 5’ 6’’ tall (152 to 167 cm)||55 cm|
|5’ 6’’ to 6’ 2’’ (167 to 188 cm)||65 cm|
|Over 6’ 2’’ tall (188 cm or more)||75 cm|
Stability Ball Exercises for Balance
Here are some of the most common balance exercises I perform with the stability ball.
- Seated Marches
- Arm Extensions
- Head Turns
- Alternating Arm/Leg Lifts
- Hip Rotation
- Modified Swiss Ball Plank
If you want to improve your balance and want a structured plan to do it, download the balance exercise PDF to see what I teach my patients in the clinic.
Free Balance PDF Handout
Download the Balance PDF Handout to get all 12 balance exercises with pictures and descriptions based on the balance exercises I recommend in the clinic.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Exercises Help Improve Balance?
The best balance exercises include: single leg stance, narrow stance reaches, hip kicks 3 ways, standing marches, mini lunges, lateral stepping, tandem or semi-tandem stance, and heel raises. All of these exercises target important muscles that need to be strong in order to improve your balance.
How can I regain my balance?
You need to start exercises for balance and stick with it for a few weeks. It may take a couple of weeks to see improvements, but it’s important to be consistent with your training. Exercises, stretches, and stability training are proven ways to help people regain their balance.
Does walking improve balance?
Walking can improve balance, but it’s even better to mix in a few simple balance exercises. Many people feel unbalanced with walking, so it’s important to work on basic balance exercises to improve your stability.
Why does your balance get worse with age?
As we age, the number of nerve cells in our vestibular system decreases. Our vision also worsens, which is a significant component of balance. Thirdly, our proprioception can decrease, which means we have a difficult time responding to changes in position.
How can seniors improve balance?
Seniors can improve balance by starting a simple routine of exercises and movements that strengthen and improve coordination and stability. Many studies show improved balance after 6 to 12 weeks of balance training.
At what age does your balance decline?
Anatomical studies show that the number of nerve cells in the vestibular system starts to decrease at age 55. There is no magic age, but our balance declines around age 55 to 65. The good news is that with balance exercises, our strength and stability can improve significantly.
What causes balance problems in older adults?
Multiple factors such as poor vision, decreased strength and endurance, uncontrolled blood pressure (orthostatic hypotension), and decreased nerve cells in the vestibular system can all contribute to balance problems in older adults.
- CDC Report on Falls
- Second CDC Report
- Community-based group exercise improves balance and reduces falls in at-risk older people: a randomised controlled trial
- A balance exercise program appears to improve function for patients with total knee arthroplasty: a randomized clinical trial.
- Training of balance under single- and dual-task conditions in older adults with balance impairment.
- The effect of multidimensional exercises on balance, mobility, and fall risk in community-dwelling older adults.
- Effects of elastic-band resistance exercise on balance, mobility and gait function, flexibility and fall efficacy in elderly people.
- Effect of Lower Extremity Stretching Exercises on Balance in Geriatric Population.
- 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