6 Best Exercises for Balance and Stability

By Aleisha K. Fetters |

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

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When we’re young, we take staying upright for granted. We don’t really worry about falling—it migh 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, determine what you need to do to stay upright, 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 among older Americans. In fact, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 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 exercises for better stability. 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. 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 onto the wall or a sturdy piece of furniture for balance. (As you get stronger, perform the move without holding onto 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 onto the wall or a sturdy piece of furniture for balance. (As you get stronger, perform the move without holding onto 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 onto the wall or a sturdy piece of furniture for balance. (As you get stronger, perform the move without holding onto 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 onto the wall or a sturdy piece of furniture for balance. (As you get stronger, perform the move without holding onto anything.) From here, sit back and slowly lower your hips onto 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 onto the wall or a sturdy piece of furniture for balance. (As you get stronger, perform the move without holding onto 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 onto the wall for balance. (As you get stronger, perform the move without holding onto 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.

What Else Can You Do?

The CDC recommends checking in with your doctor about your health and your risk of fall injuries. You can:

  • Let your doctor know if you have fallen recently, feel unsteady on your feet, or feel lightheaded or dizzy often.
  • Let your doctor know about all the medications you take, including prescription drugs, OTC meds, and supplements. Your doctor will want to check if any increases your risk of falling. As always, do not stop or change medications unless your doctor instructs you to do so.
  • Work with your doctor to manage any chronic conditions like diabetes or arthritis. The healthier you are overall, the lower your risk of falling.
  • Get your eyes checked once a year. Vision problems can increase your risk of falling.
  • Eat bone-strengthening foods with plenty of calcium and vitamin D.
  • Practice balance exercises regularly. If you prefer group exercise, check out SilverSneakers Stability or tai chi classes.
  • Keep your floors at home free of clutter, secure or remove loose rugs, and make sure there is plenty of light. Don’t be afraid to ask family or friends for help with these tasks.

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