Best 5 Exercises to Improve your Balance for Older People
Improving balance is essential for older adults to reduce the risk of falls and maintain functional independence. When recommending exercises, it's important to ensure they're safe and appropriate for the individual's current level of fitness and their own ability, so while this article is general, you should seek specific advice from a physiotherapist or osteopath local to you about the best 5 exercises to improve balance for YOU.
Why is improving balance important as we get older? It’s not important, it’s essential. This is not just us saying this, it is absolutely essential. Want to see your grandmother stumble and fracture her hip? Want to see your parent slip and fracture their wrist? No of course not.
When I was a junior physiotherapist, my 90-year-old Grandmother slipped at her nursing home, fell, and fractured her hip. She ended up in hospital having a hip replacement. I remember my father getting a call from the hospital “Come as soon as possible to recovery, your grandmother has had a heart attack after the surgery”. We rushed in, said our goodbyes, but miraculously she made it through and a few weeks later, was discharged from hospital. She was never the same, but she made it out for a few months. That particular hip fracture cost the NHS tens of thousands of pounds in hospital care. Yet falls can be prevented.
The best way to prevent falls is by staying strong, steady and straight (a term used by the Royal Osteoporosis Society). Having strong muscles is one part of helping to maintain good balance. Staying upright is useful too, and being steady is all about reducing the chance of having a fall.
There are many things that can affect balance that are external – clutter, pets, bags, carpets, crooked pavements, ice, spilt water, poor lighting. We won’t focus on external factors. In this article, we’ll focus on internal factors: leg strength, core strength, balance, proprioception.
Why does Strength, Balance and Proprioception help reduce falls?
Strong legs are less likely to give way. A strong core can help you to maintain good control of your body. Good balance can help you correct yourself if you do have a wobble. Proprioception tells your brain where your body is in space, so it helps your nervous system to adjust to your environment.
Falls are a huge problem because they often lead to fractures, and this can be life-changing in the elderly. A bad fall can be very hard to recover from, so doing the necessary exercises is essential. At Surrey Physio we regularly see people who have falls. Almost every day we rehabilitate someone from a fall, or someone who has sustained a fracture following a fall. I recently had a patient come to see me, she slipped on some water in her kitchen, and came down hard on her sacrum and had immediate back pain. She was turned away from A&E with advice on over-the-counter medication, and spoke to our team who advised her to go back to A&E and request an X-ray. She had a fractured vertebra. We’re currently rehabilitating her at Surrey Physio, along with many others in similar situations.
Here are 5 exercises that can help improve balance in older adults:
1. Sit to Stand – No Hands
Sit upright with good posture. Place your arms across your chest. Gently lean forwards and use as much leg and core strength as you can to push yourself up. If you get stuck, use one or both arms to assist. Once upright, stand up straight. When you feel comfortable, slowly sit back down, ideally with your arms across your chest. However, if you need some guidance then use your arms to assist the sitting. Try to keep a straight spine during the sitting rather than let your back round forwards too much. This exercise will strengthen your legs and core.
Perform Daily | Repeat ten reps/sit-to-stands every day.
2. Single Leg Balance with Support
Stand on one leg, and try to keep your balance. Be careful and hold on to a wall or table for support when you first start this exercise. A single leg balance exercise such as this is an enormously valuable exercise, and its benefits including strengthening the muscles and ligaments around the ankles and knees, and improving balance.
Perform Daily | Hold for 1 to 2 minutes
3. Leg Lift Sideways with Support
Stand upright with good posture. Hold on to a wall or table for support. Put your weight through one leg and take the other leg out to the side, and back to neutral. Repeat as required. You can also hold the leg out to the side and maintain this position. This exercise predominantly strengthens your outer hip and gluteal (buttock) muscles, improves balance and also mobilises a stiff hip joint.
Perform Daily | Repeat 5 times each side | Hold for 5 seconds
4. Gentle Wall Slide
Stand upright, with your back resting against a wall and your feet slightly away from the side of the wall. Open your legs slightly wider than shoulder width, and bend your knees to the 1/4 squat position. Make sure you keep the middle of your knee-cap in line with the middle toes of your foot. Return to the start position. This is a strengthening exercise for your legs.
Perform Daily | Repeat 10 times
Stand upright with good posture, next to a wall or table just in case you need support. March on the spot. Keep your knees up, and move your opposite arm with the opposite knee. Try to stay in exactly the same spot throughout your march. This exercise is good for knee mobility, endurance, balance and co-ordination. If you need support, hold on to a table or wall and perform one sided until you gain more balance.
Perform Daily | Repeat 10 times each side
Staying strong and balanced are important factors when it comes to improving your balance in older people. Don’t let a fall ruin your life. Don’t risk it. Exercise your body and improve your balance. If you need help, see our team at Surrey Physio and we’ll do the balance exercises with you.
If you are a therapist and like the exercises and information in this article, please go to www.rehabmypatient.com to check out this amazing exercise prescription software.
If you are a patient and need some advice about balance, please call us on 02086856930. We will need to see you face-to-face for balance training or rehab, or guide you on what exercises you should do at home.