6 Best Balance Exercises for Better Stability

By K. Aleisha Fetters |

Experts share how to help prevent falls and stay strong on your feet—for life.

a man and woman walking on a log

When we’re young, we take staying upright for granted. We don’t really worry about falling—it might not even cross our minds.

But over the years, things change. The body’s systems that detect gravity, identify exact body positioning at any moment, and promote balance and stability become less effective, says Caroline DeGroot, M.P.T., a physical therapist at Athletico Physical Therapy’s vestibular program, which focuses on helping adults improve their balance and stability.

On their own, these declines increase your risk of falling, but they often occur alongside losses in muscle strength and mobility, says Barbara Bergin, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon in Austin. She adds that type 2 diabetes, which affects about 25 percent of older adults, is one of the most common causes of peripheral neuropathy, or nerve damage that can result in numbness in the hands, feet, and other parts of the body.

Put all of that together, and it’s easy to see why falls are the number-one cause of injuries and death from injuries among older Americans. In fact, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an older adult falls every single second of each day in the United States.

It’s never too early to start thinking about improving your balance and preventing falls. Below, DeGroot shares six of her favorite balance exercises. Perform these bodyweight moves as often as possible: when you’re standing at the kitchen counter or waiting in line while running errands.

What if you’ve already fallen? Start by telling your doctor and asking these important questions. Half of older adults who fall don’t tell their doctor—which means injuries can go untreated and a balance problem could get worse. Follow your doctor’s instructions for any treatment or physical therapy, and ask how you can exercise safely.

1. Foot Taps

Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart in front of a step (the bottom step of a staircase will work) or low piece of furniture. If needed, hold on to the wall or a sturdy piece of furniture for balance. As you get stronger, perform the move without holding on to anything.

From here, slowly raise one foot to tap the step in front of you, and then slowly return it to the floor. Perform 15 to 20 taps, then repeat on the opposite leg.

2. Head Rotations

Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart. If needed, hold on to the wall or a sturdy piece of furniture for balance. As you get stronger, perform the move without holding on to anything.

From here, slowly move your head from side to side then up and down while keep your body as still as possible. Do this for 30 seconds, and repeat. If you get dizzy, pause and move your head more slowly. If you’re still dizzy, stop.

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3. Standing Marches

Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart. If needed, hold on to the wall or a sturdy piece of furniture for balance. As you get stronger, perform the move without holding on to anything.

From here, lift one knee until your thigh is parallel to the floor (or as close to parallel as you can go) while keep your torso straight and avoiding any leaning. Pause, then slowly return your foot to the floor. Perform 20 marches, alternating between legs with each march.

4. Sit-to-Stands

Stand tall with your back facing a sturdy chair and your feet hip-width apart. If needed, hold on to the wall or a sturdy piece of furniture for balance. As you get stronger, perform the move without holding on to anything.

From here, sit back and slowly lower your hips on to the chair as gently as possible. Pause, and without swinging your torso, push through your heels to stand up. Perform 10 repetitions.

5. Single-Leg Stands

Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart. If needed, hold on to the wall or a sturdy piece of furniture for balance. As you get stronger, perform the move without holding on to anything.

From here, lift one foot an inch off the floor while keeping your torso straight and without leaning toward your planted foot. Hold for 10 to 15 seconds, then slowly return your foot to the floor. Repeat on the opposite leg. Perform five stands on each leg.

6. Over-the-Shoulder Walks

Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart at one end of a hallway or room. If needed, hold on to the wall for balance. As you get stronger, perform the move without holding on to anything.

From here, look behind you over one shoulder. Maintaining this gaze, take four to five steps forward. Then, look over your other shoulder, and take four to five more steps forward. Perform five repetitions on each side.

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