The 10 Best Balance Exercises for Seniors to Prevent Falls

Discover the best balance exercises for seniors to improve balance and prevent falls, recommended by physical therapists.

Published Date: May 21, 2024
Elderly-woman-doing-side-leg-lift-leaning-on-chair-at-home

The 10 Best Balance Exercises for Seniors to Prevent Falls

Discover the best balance exercises for seniors to improve balance and prevent falls, recommended by physical therapists.

Published Date: May 21, 2024
Elderly-woman-doing-side-leg-lift-leaning-on-chair-at-home

The 10 Best Balance Exercises for Seniors to Prevent Falls

Discover the best balance exercises for seniors to improve balance and prevent falls, recommended by physical therapists.

Published Date: May 21, 2024
Elderly-woman-doing-side-leg-lift-leaning-on-chair-at-home

The 10 Best Balance Exercises for Seniors to Prevent Falls

Discover the best balance exercises for seniors to improve balance and prevent falls, recommended by physical therapists.

Published Date: May 21, 2024
Elderly-woman-doing-side-leg-lift-leaning-on-chair-at-home
Table of Contents

By now, you’re probably well aware of the health benefits of exercise. But did you know that certain exercises are more important than others if you’re over 65? You may do a great job of going on daily walks and even an occasional strength training class, but don’t forget about one of the most important areas of fitness: balance. 

Like strengthening a muscle, the more you work on and challenge your balance, the better it will be, says Heather Broach, PT, DPT, a physical therapist at Hinge Health.

Read on to learn more about why balance is so key and how to improve it, especially with balance exercises for seniors recommended by Hinge Health physical therapists.

Our Hinge Health Experts

Dylan Peterson, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist and Clinical Reviewer
Dr. Peterson is a Hinge Health physical therapist who focuses on developing clinical exercise therapy programs and member education.
Jonathan Lee, MD, MBA
Orthopedic Surgeon and Medical Reviewer
Dr. Lee is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and an Associate Medical Director at Hinge Health.
Dr. Heather Broach, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist
Dr. Broach is a Hinge Health physical therapist who enjoys treating shoulder, low back, knee, and ankle issues.
Maureen Lu, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist and Clinical Reviewer
Dr. Lu is a Hinge Health physical therapist and board-certified orthopedic clinical specialist with over 17 years of clinical experience.

The Best Exercises to Improve Balance

1. Tandem Balance

1. Tandem Balance

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“This is a great move because it enables you to keep both feet on the ground while narrowing your base of support,” says Dr. Broach. “It’s a little more secure than simply standing on one foot.”

How to do it: 

  • Stand with your feet a comfortable distance apart and your hands on your hips. 

  • Place one foot in front of the other so your heel is directly in front of the toes of your other foot. 

  • Step your feet apart to return to the starting position. 

2. Kick Stand RDL (Romanian Dead Lift)

2. Kick Stand RDL (Romanian Dead Lift)

This move, which has you take a staggered stance, allows you to emphasize stability in one leg without having to completely rely on it. “It’s a very functional movement that teaches you to use your glutes and hamstrings to stand back up, while getting you off balance a little,” explains Dr. Broach.

How to do it: 

  • Stand with your feet in a staggered stance and your hands at your sides. Your front foot is flat on the floor holding most of your weight, and your back foot is resting lightly on your toes to help you balance. 

  • Lower your chest and hands toward the floor by hinging at your hips while keeping your back mostly straight. 

  • Squeeze your glutes to lift your chest up and return to standing.

3. Single Leg Balance

3. Single Leg Balance

This simple movement challenges your stabilizing muscles and builds your ability to stay upright in challenging situations. If you can master this easily, Dr. Broach recommends that you place a pillow under your foot to make it harder. “It’s a simple tweak that makes your base of support slightly more unsteady,” she says.

How to do it: 

  • Stand in a comfortable position and bend one of your legs to lift your foot off the floor by bringing your heel toward your butt. 

  • Grasp your foot with your hand as you reach out with your other arm to help with your balance. 

  • Relax your foot to the floor and return to standing. 

4. Standing Side Leg Raise

4. Standing Side Leg Raise

This move helps strengthen your core muscles, which can also help prevent falls. When you first try this balance exercise, it may help to hold onto something like the back of a chair or even a wall to help you maintain balance.

How to do it: 

  • Stand next to a sturdy surface like a countertop or table, and place your hand on it for balance. 

  • Lift one leg out to your side and toward the ceiling while keeping your knee straight. 

  • Relax your leg back to the floor. 

5. Standing March

5. Standing March

This move helps to improve hip and core strength, and overall balance, supporting activities like walking, dancing, and running.

How to do it: 

  • Start with your feet a comfortable distance apart with your hands on your hips. 

  • Lift one leg off the floor and move that knee up toward the ceiling. Bend your knee as you raise it. 

  • Lower your foot back to the floor and repeat on the other side. 

6. Table Side Stepping

6. Table Side Stepping

In order to walk safely and comfortably, each of our legs needs to have the strength and stability to hold us upright even when the other foot is lifted off the ground, which this exercise practices.

How to do it: 

  • Stand facing a table or counter and place your hands on the edge. Stand tall with your feet hip width apart. 

  • Step one foot out to the side, and then return it to the starting position. 

  • Repeat with the other foot.

7. Flamingo With Table

7. Flamingo With Table

This is another move to improve stability and balance that uses a table for support, which can be helpful if you’re experiencing some balance problems. If you feel a little wobbly, try to pull in your abdominals to support your balance.

How to do it: 

  • Stand next to a table with one hand resting on the table for support. 

  • Bend one knee to lift your foot off the floor, balancing on the other foot.  

  • Return your foot to the floor. 

8. Sit-to-Stand

8. Sit-to-Stand

This is a functional move that helps to improve strength and balance, mimicking the motions you go through in various daily activities, like getting up from a chair, off the toilet, or out of a car. 

How to do it: 

  • Sit in a chair with your feet comfortably apart while holding your hands together in front of your chest. 

  • Without using your hands, push through your feet to straighten your legs and stand up. 

  • Sit back into the chair with control. 

9. Core Balance

9. Core Balance

This more challenging variation on a traditional squat, helps to improve strength and balance. You can keep one or both hands on a sturdy surface if you need more support.

How to do it: 

  • Stand with your feet about shoulder width apart and lift your arms out to your side to help keep you steady. 

  • Lift one foot off of the floor behind you while hinging at the hips to bring your chest forward. 

  • Bend your knee with control into a squat position, focusing on your balance. 

  • Straighten your knee and return to standing. 

10. Flying Woodpecker

10. Flying Woodpecker

This single-leg move is a full-body exercise that helps to improve strength and balance in the upper and lower body muscles that help you feel more stable when you walk.

How to do it: 

  • Stand with your feet comfortably apart. 

  • Raise both arms over your head and hinge your chest toward the floor while you lift one leg behind you and off the floor. 

  • Slowly return back to standing. 

Building stability exercises into your routine can help keep your balance in tip top shape. Try the above exercises recommended by Hinge Health physical therapists. And these aren’t just for seniors — these moves can help improve your balance and stay upright whatever your age may be.

If these exercises are too hard, talk to your doctor. They may advise physical therapy. A physical therapist (PT) can create an exercise program to help improve your balance or suggest beginning with seated exercises to keep you safe while you build up to more challenging strength and stability exercises.

The information contained in these videos is intended to be used for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice or treatment for any specific condition. Hinge Health is not your healthcare provider and is not responsible for any injury sustained or exacerbated by your use of or participation in these exercises. Please consult with your healthcare provider with any questions you may have about your medical condition or treatment.

Let’s Talk Benefits of Balance Exercises

The most obvious reason to incorporate balance exercises into your routine is to prevent fals. But how does this actually work? Balance exercises are associated with: 

  • Improved coordination. Certain exercises improve the communication channels between your brain and body so you’re better able to stay upright in challenging environments. 

  • More muscle. Lack of muscle strength is strongly associated with falls and injuries from falls. Exercise therapy challenges and strengthens the muscles you need to stay upright, including your legs and core, as well as improves endurance and flexibility. 

  • Stronger bones. One-third of older adults don’t get the protein they need to maintain muscle mass, bone health, and other essential physiological functions. Exercise — especially strength training — increases the action of bone-forming cells in the body. This results in stronger, denser bones that reduce fall risk and the chances of experiencing a fall-related injury. 

An added bonus? Good balance may actually help you live longer. A 2022 study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that people over the age of 50 who were not able to stand on one foot for 10 seconds had a higher risk of death within the next decade. The authors of the study have a theory as to why that is: You need balance to do all sorts of daily activities, including climbing stairs, getting in and out of a car, and walking. The poorer your balance, the less likely you are to do those activities, which has a snowball effect on your health and quality of life. 

Why Is Balance Important?

Falls are the leading cause of injury — and death from injury — among adults aged 65 and older, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Balance tends to decline with age, usually so subtly most people aren’t even aware of it,” says Dr. Broach. “It can be something as minor as not seeing the edge of an area rug, and slipping.”

This information isn't intended to cause alarm, but rather highlight the incredible benefits that come from taking steps to improve your balance as you age. Falls can be serious, but they are also preventable, especially with movement and targeted exercises. 

More Activities to Improve Balance

One of the best ways to reduce your risk of taking a tumble is to stay active, says Dr. Broach. Exercise that strengthens your legs, such as brisk walking and other weight-bearing exercises, are very effective at reducing your risk of falling, according to a 2018 analysis by the United States Preventive Services Task Force.

Don’t have time to go to the gym? That’s okay. You can easily work balance exercises into your day-to-day life, Dr. Broach notes. Remember, balance is like any other skill — it requires practice in a safe environment to be mastered. 

Other activities that are particularly helpful include: 

  • Tai chi, which is a practice that involves slow, gentle movements and controlled breathing. A 2020 review in the Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity found that those who practice it have a reduced rate of falls by about 23%.

  • Dancing. Consider that Zumba class at your local YMCA. A 2017 study in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience found that weekly dancing improved balance more than other cardio workouts.

  • Yoga, which challenges your static and dynamic balance skills. It’s especially helpful in improving balance for people aged 60 and older, according to a 2016 review in the journal Age and Ageing.

  • Small balance challenges throughout the day, like standing on your right foot then your left foot while doing something else, like cooking or brushing your teeth. For an added bonus, stand on one foot and lift the other one out to the side. You can also walk backward or walk heel-to-toe as you do things around your house. As you feel more stable, you can build up the number of repetitions you’re able to complete.  

Other Tips for Better Balance

In addition to strengthening exercises, the following tips may help promote better balance and reduce your chances of a fall: 

Keep backup at hip height. If you need to lift or bend or do any sort of activity where you might potentially lose balance, make sure that you have something that you can grab onto, like a chair or counter, that sits close to hip height. This allows you to engage in activities that challenge and improve your balance while staying safe. 

Pay attention to your stance. If you tend to sit or stand in a way that causes you to lean to one side this can cause you to lose your center of gravity and fall. Dr. Broach recommends a quick check in the mirror before and during your balance exercises to make sure most of your body weight is situated directly over your feet.

Skip the socks. You may feel fine padding around your home in slippers or socks, but research shows that walking around without shoes increases fall risk by up to 11% as compared to wearing sneakers. 

See your doctor. If you frequently feel dizzy or unsteady on your feet, see a doctor to rule out an underlying medical condition. They can also check any medications you’re taking to see if they may affect your balance. 

PT Tip: Strike a Pose in Front of the Mirror

“There’s a lot of value in getting visual feedback,” says Dr. Broach. So it can be helpful to do your balance exercises in front of a mirror. “I tell patients to try to keep their head up, and not to look down at their feet to help maintain balance.” A 2018 study in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science found that men with ankle instability who incorporated this sort of visual feedback into their balance exercises reported significant improvements in balance.

How Hinge Health Can Help You

If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you’ve been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program.

The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you. 

Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition. Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you. 

See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here.

This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.

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References

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  2. Shupert, C. Balance and Aging. Vestibular Disorders Association. https://vestibular.org/sites/default/files/page_files/Balance%20and%20Aging.pdf 

  3. Older Adults and Balance Problems. (2022, September 12). National Institute on Aging. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/older-adults-and-balance-problems

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  10. Araujo, C. G., de Souza e Silva, C. G., Laukkanen, J. A., Fiatarone Singh, M., Kunutsor, S., Myers, J., Franca, J. F., & Castro, C. L. (2022). Successful 10-second one-legged stance performance predicts survival in middle-aged and older individuals. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 56(17), bjsports-2021-105360. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2021-105360

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  12. How Medications Can Affect Your Balance. (2019. March, 11). Harvard Health. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/how-medications-can-affect-your-balance

  13. Koepsell, T. D., Wolf, M. E., Buchner, D. M., Kukull, W. A., LaCroix, A. Z., Tencer, A. F., Frankenfeld, C. L., Tautvydas, M., & Larson, E. B. (2004). Footwear Style and Risk of Falls in Older Adults. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 52(9), 1495–1501. doi:10.1111/j.1532-5415.2004.52412.x

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