10 Exercises to Improve Balance, Mobility, and Fitness
This is a guest post by Christophe Adrien.
Falls are a major health concern for our aging population. Each year, more than 800,000 people in the U.S. require hospitalization from a fall. A significant number of falls are attributable to declining strength, balance, and mobility due to inactivity — a process called deconditioning. Yet, deconditioning is entirely preventable with exercise. Here are 10 exercises, chosen with the help of Bend Personal Trainers, to improve balance, mobility, and fitness to reduce the risk of a senior fall.
“The quads are what allow you to keep doing what you love to do, like walking and biking,” says Lyndsey Cotton, R.N., B.S.N., personal trainer at Bend Personal Trainers in Bend, Oregon. Stretching them “is important to maintain the health and stability of the knee joint, which will improve your overall balance and mobility.”
How to: Using a chair for balance, grasp your foot and pull it toward your buttocks until you feel a stretch in the thigh. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat with the other leg.
Standing hamstring stretch
“The hamstrings keep you stable while you stand and bend over. Stretching them improves flexibility in the back of the thigh, which improves balance when standing and walking,” says Cotton.
How to: Place the heel of your foot on the seat of a chair. Keeping the elevated leg straight, bend forward until you feel a stretch in the back of the leg. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat with the other leg. If you need extra stability for the stretch, stand next to a counter or table and use it as needed.
Floor hamstring stretch
“Stretching the hamstrings on the floor is a better option for those who cannot stand well on one leg,” says Cotton. “It’s the same principle but closer to the ground, which many seniors find more comfortable.”
How to: Lie down on your back and lift one leg up over your body. Grasp the leg underneath the knee with both hands and pull toward your body until you feel a stretch, keeping the knee bent. For deeper stretching, raise the leg until the sole of your foot is parallel with the ceiling.
“Weak ankles are extremely common in seniors and can make orthopedic problems worse. Strengthening and improving mobility in the ankles improves balance,” says Cotton.
How to: In a seated position, place one foot out as far as you can and rest it with the heel on the floor. Maintaining this position, point the toe as far forward as possible, then point it back toward the ceiling. Repeat 20-30 times with each ankle.
“The best way to improve balance is to practice balance,” says Cotton. “Single-leg stands build strength in the thighs, as well as all the stabilizer muscles that help you maintain balance.”
How to: Using a chair for stability, stand on one leg with the knee slightly bent. Hold in this position for one minute. As you improve, take your hands off the chair for as long as you can.
“Squats, in general, are a fantastic exercise to build strength in the legs,” says Cotton. “But as we age, our ability to perform a standard squat declines, so we have to modify them.”
How to: Sit near the edge of a chair with your feet shoulder-width apart and your knees at a 90-degree angle. From this position, stand up. From the standing position, slowly sit back down, keeping your back straight all the way down. For extra assistance and stability, use an armchair.
“Lower back issues are a common cause of mobility problems in seniors,” says Cotton. “Bridges are extremely effective to stretch and to strengthen that area.”
How to: Lie down on your back with your hands at your side and your feet firmly planted on the ground about 10 inches from your buttocks. Thrust your pelvis in the air as high as you can and hold for 30 seconds. Repeat 3-4 times.
“The abdominals are part of the ‘core.’ They work with the lower back and thighs to stabilize you in an upright position,” says Cotton. “But seniors may find traditional abdominal exercises difficult, especially if they have lower back problems. The most effective ab exercise for seniors is the plank.”
How to: Facing down toward the floor, place your elbows and knees on the ground while keeping the rest of your body elevated. Form a plank with your body and hold for 30 seconds to a minute.
“There are several parts to the abdominal wall, and it’s important to exercise all of them,” says Cotton. “Leg lifts help strengthen the lower abs, groin, and hip flexors, which are all involved in balance and mobility.”
How to: Lying on your back, place your hands underneath your lower back for stability. Slowly raise one leg 6-10 inches off the ground and hold for 30 seconds. Repeat with the other leg.
“Upper body strength is important to maintain for quality of life and overall fitness,” says Cotton. “Wall push-ups improve arm and shoulder strength, which are important for a variety of daily tasks.”
How to: Place your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width against a wall with your feet 2-3 feet away from the wall. Keeping your back straight, bend at the elbows and lower your body toward the wall. Before your nose touches the wall, push back out to the starting position.