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Stay on Your Feet with Some Easy Balance Exercises

May 2, 2020
 

Author: Sheri R. Colberg, PhD, FACSM


Easy balance exercises you can do at home

Keeping your balance is essential for staying on your feet and preventing falls as you age, even if you cant leave the house much currently. In truth, many falls happen at home, so theres no time like the present to start improving your balance. 

Balance ability starts to decline in everyone with aging, and it accelerates the older that you get. Anyone over the age of 40 should start thinking about adding balance exercises into their regular physical activities. Many of these are easy to do at home and dont take much time. Also, any lower-body resistance exercises and most core training double as balance training.  

Although falling is inevitable at any age, you can reduce your risk of falling by improving your balance, lower body strength, flexibility (especially in your ankles), fitness, and agility. Work on balance exercises daily for the best results. These and many more exercises are available on Diabetes Motion Academy for free download. 

Test Your Balance: If you think you already have great balance, first test it out before you assume too much: stand on one leg and shut your eyes. (Dont try doing this without holding onto something or having something close by that you can grab if you need to.) If you cant stand steadily on one leg for at least 15 seconds—with or without your eyes closed—then you definitely need to start practicing as soon as possible to improve your balance. Begin by doing the following exercises on a daily basis to improve your balance and lower your risk of falling. 

Single-Leg Balance Exercise: The most comfortable balance exercise is to hold onto a table with both hands while standing on one leg. Once you feel stable doing this exercise in this position, though, you should try it with less support (as outlined below). This exercise should be minimally done two to three times a day on alternating feet. Within a couple of weeks or months, your balance will rapidly improve. 

Single-Leg Balance Exercise Modifications: This exercise can improve your balance further if you modify it slightly. Incorporate these more advanced balance techniques as you progress:  

  1. hold on with only one hand;  
  1. hold on with just one fingertip;  
  1. dont hold on at all, and  
  1. if you are very steady on your feet, close your eyes (still without holding on).  

Its a good idea to have someone stand close by in case you ever feel unsteady, though, mainly when your eyes are closed. Switch legs and often repeat, both with your eyes open and with them closed. 

Anytime Balance Exercises: The following exercises also improve your balance–regardless of how young and steady you still are. You can do them almost anytime and as often as you like, as long as you have something sturdy nearby to hold onto if needed.  

  • Walk heel-to-toe. Position your heel just in front of the toes of the opposite foot each time you take a step. Your heel and toes should touch or come close. You may want to start first going along handrails or with a wall next to you. 
  • Walk backward. Try walking backward along a wall or a kitchen counter without looking back, using the wall or counter to steady yourself infrequently. 
  • Stand on a cushion or other unstable surface. Try using cushions or pillows of varying firmness, and stand on them with your legs alternately together and apart. 
  • Stand with a changed position. Try standing under different conditions—with your eyes open or closed, your head tilted to one side or straight, your mouth talking or silent, and your hands at your sides or out from your body. 
  • Grab a towel with your toes. Place a towel on the floor and practice grabbing it with the toes of both of your feet, alternately, while both sitting and standing. 

More Anytime Balance Activities: 

Balance Activity 

Movements required 

Single leg balance 

Facing a wall for support, eyes open, balance on one leg for 10-20 seconds. Repeat on other leg. 

Three-way leg swing 

Stand on a single foot, hands-on-hips. Swing the other foot forward ten times, sideways ten times, and backward ten times, returning to the (middle) starting position after holding each outward position for 5 seconds per repetition. 

Balance/Reach 

Stand on both feet, then bend knees and lower body and reach across the body with the opposite hand. It can be done single-legged for progression. 

Forward Lean 

Stand on one or both feet, hands-on-hips. Bend forward as if to touch the forehead to the wall. Hold 10-15 seconds. 

Toe Raise 

Rock back on heels while standing upright. Repeat ten times. 

Heel Raise 

Stand on both feet, rise on the balls of both feet, and repeat ten times. It can be done single-legged.  

 

Other Helpful Activities and Comments: 

  • Tai chi is excellent for improving balance. Getting involved in tai chi or any form of martial arts training will allow you to practice your balance while gaining lower body strength. 
  • As mentioned, lower-body resistance and core training also double as balance training. When you do your regular strength exercises, your balance should improve at the same time. 
  • Finally, maintaining your flexibility will improve your balance, so get involved with yoga (to work on flexibility and strength at the same time) or simply engage in stretching regularly to keep a broader range of motion around all your joints. 

 

From Diabetes Motion Academy Resources, Balance Exercises, Sheri R. Colberg © 2017. 

 

Sheri R. Colberg, Ph.D., is the author of The Athlete’s Guide to Diabetes: Expert Advice for 165 Sports and Activities (the newest edition of the Diabetic Athletes Handbook). She is also the author of Diabetes & Keeping Fit for Dummies, co-published by Wiley and the ADA. A professor emerita of exercise science from Old Dominion University and an internationally recognized diabetes motion expert, she is the author of 12 books, 30 book chapters, and over 420 articles. She was honored with the 2016 American Diabetes Association Outstanding Educator in Diabetes Award. Contact her via her websites (SheriColberg.com and DiabetesMotion.com).