How to Improve Your Balance: Exercises and Tips You Need to Feel More Stable and Steady
Balance problems can make everyday tasks more challenging, but these tips and exercises can help you improve stability and confidence on your feet.
Your balance is probably one of those things you haven't thought too much about since you were a wobbly infant trying to find your footing. Normally, it feels like something your body just knows how to do to keep you upright and stable. Of course, you’ll have moments where it’s more pronounced, like when you lose your balance if you trip, stand up too quickly, or get off a spinning amusement park ride.
But even though you don’t spend much time thinking about your balance, your body does. It works hard behind the scenes almost every minute of every day to help you maintain good balance that’s necessary to do just about anything: get out of bed in the morning, get dressed, sit down, stand up, shower, cook, walk, get on and off the toilet, climb stairs, get in and out of your car, run errands, and get back into bed at night. “All of those activities require balance — it’s part of everything you do,” says Courteney Kemp, PT, DPT, a physical therapist at Hinge Health.
Poor balance can make these and other tasks more challenging, but balance training can counteract declines as you age and make everyday tasks and recreational activities, like hiking, gardening, and bike riding, easier and more enjoyable.
Here, learn more about how to improve your balance, including the best stability exercises recommended by Hinge Health physical therapists.
Our Hinge Health Experts
Courteney Kemp, PT, DPT
Jonathan Lee, MD, MBA
Dylan Peterson, PT, DPT
What Is Balance?
Balance is your ability to stay upright whether you’re moving around (dynamic balance) or standing still (static balance). Both types of balance involve the coordination of three different systems in the body — the somatosensory, visual, and vestibular — that relay messages to the brain.
The somatosensory system involves receptors in muscles and joints that detect where the body is in space, such as stepping over rocks on a hike.
The visual system uses your eyes to take in information about your surroundings, like spotting an uneven sidewalk or toys on the floor.
The vestibular system of the inner ear relays information about your head position and motion, such as when you turn a corner or trip.
Based on input from these systems, your brain sends lightning-quick messages through the nervous system to muscles, bones, and tendons so they can react. This is what helps you step over that rock, sidestep those toys, and steady yourself when you trip.
“All of these systems work together to prevent you from falling,” says Dr. Kemp. “And if you have an impairment in one system, the body has amazing capability to adapt and compensate. For example, if you have neuropathy in your feet from diabetes, the visual and vestibular systems will step up.”
You have the ability to improve your balance and prevent declines that can occur with age. The more active you are, the better your balance will be. And good balance can help protect you from falls and injury, keep you doing the things you love, and enable you to remain independent for longer as you get older.
The Movement and Balance Connection
Movement is critical to maintaining good balance, especially as you age.
When you slow down or aren’t moving as much, whether due to an injury, a health condition, or too much sedentary living, you’re not activating the sensory feedback loop between your muscles and joints and your brain. This, in turn, can impact how well you’re able to maintain your balance.
Inactivity also causes declines in muscle strength and flexibility, essential components of balance. As a result, you may be shakier when you move and less confident in your stability. When that happens, you may further limit your activity — an understandable reaction, however, one that only exacerbates the problem and often leads to impaired function, frailty, and injuries. It can also have a negative snowball effect on other aspects of your health.
That’s why it’s important to ease into movement with balance training exercises instead of avoiding it. Movement can retrain those brain-body feedback loops, improve your balance, and make you more confident to get up and move around — all of which can lead to better overall health. In fact, a review of 25 studies in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience found that exercise and balance training not only improved balance, but it also led people who participated in these programs to report increases in quality of life and cognitive function, like memory.
How to Improve Your Balance with Movement
Any activity that gets you up and moving will play a role in helping you maintain your balance. Go out for a walk (even short ones are beneficial). Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Play ball with your kids or grandkids.
You can also exercise for balance at home by incorporating specific balance exercises, like some of the ones below. The best part: You can implement these exercises as you go about your daily life, like practicing body weight shifting as you do the dishes, holding a single leg stance as you brush your teeth, striking a tandem stance while waiting in line at the grocery store, or doing toe raises while pumping gas.
Dancing is another fun way to improve your stability. Whether you’re dancing solo or with a partner, the movement, like any other, activates and trains the motor and sensory feedback loop that balance depends on. In one small German study, weekly dancing improved balance more than typical cardio workouts among healthy seniors.
Yoga, tai chi, and strength training are also effective balance-enhancing workouts.
Working with a physical therapist can also help you safely practice balance exercises. If you’ve begun to notice that you’re less steady on your feet, it’s understandable that you may be hesitant to work out on your own. A PT can help you build the strength, stability, and coordination necessary so you feel confident incorporating these moves into your daily life.
You can see a physical therapist in person or use a program like Hinge Health to access a PT via telehealth/video visit.
Balance and Stability Exercises to Help You Feel Steadier
These balance training exercises will enhance stability, build strength, and increase flexibility. As you perform these exercises, pick a spot in front of you at about eye level and focus on it to help you remain steady. You can make these exercises more challenging as your balance improves by performing them with your eyes closed, slowly turning or tilting your head as you do them, or doing both simultaneously.
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.
PT Tip: Safety First
“Safety is the most important consideration when you do these exercises,” says Dr. Kemp. If you feel shaky on your feet, you don’t want to do anything that could make you fall and injure yourself. If necessary, modify exercises so they’re safe to perform and reduce the risk of falling. This can mean performing moves while standing next to a stable surface, like a kitchen counter (not a moveable chair), that you can hold onto as needed. It might even be best to have another person near you as you perform these exercises or consider working with a physical therapist to design a program that is specific to your needs.
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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Dunsky, A. (2019). The Effect of Balance and Coordination Exercises on Quality of Life in Older Adults: A Mini-Review. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, 11(318). doi:10.3389/fnagi.2019.00318
Rehfeld, K., Müller, P., Aye, N., Schmicker, M., Dordevic, M., Kaufmann, J., Hökelmann, A., & Müller, N. G. (2017). Dancing or Fitness Sport? The Effects of Two Training Programs on Hippocampal Plasticity and Balance Abilities in Healthy Seniors. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 11, 305. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2017.00305