12 At-Home Exercises to Improve Balance and Reduce the Risk of Falls

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With the onset of middle age, many of us may start reducing the frequency of the activities that kept us challenged physically in our younger years. We no longer get onto or off of the floor or ground to play with our children, to play with our dogs, or to the garden.  As we downsize our living situations we are no longer carrying laundry baskets up and downstairs and we begin to pay to have someone else paint, hang drapes and wash our windows. As a result of this progression into a simpler and more leisurely middle age, we will rarely have the need or opportunity to get on/off of the floor, reach or work overhead, carry moderate weights up and down stairs or walk on challenging unlevel terrain. Unfortunately, we lose what we don’t use!

Without regular challenges to our balance, over time we run the risk of losing the ability to maintain our balance when it matters most.   Falls increase as we age for that exact reason and falls can result in hip fractures, concussions, or worse. Falls are the number one cause of injuries and death from injuries among older Americans. In fact, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an older adult falls every single second of each day in the United States. Nearly any activity that keeps you on your feet and moving, such as walking, can help you to maintain a good balance. But specific exercises designed to enhance your balance are beneficial to include in your daily routine as they can help improve your stability.   Below is a list of 12 exercises that you can do at home to improve your balance and reduce the risk of injury due to falls. Also included are several exercises that will help improve your leg strength so that if you do find yourself on the ground you will be able to get yourself back up again!  If you have severe balance problems or symptoms of dizziness or vertigo, you should be evaluated by a physician or physical therapist before attempting to engage in balance exercises. Dizziness is not the same as balance. Dizziness is a sense of spinning or disequilibrium that can cause balance deficits but it needs to be fully evaluated as to its cause prior to engaging in any type of balance retraining.  

1). SINGLE LEG STANDING ON LEVEL SURFACE (Goal is 30 continuous seconds)

2). SINGLE LEG STANDING WITH LEG SWING OR REACH OUT

To challenge yourself when performing your single-leg standing reach out with one leg either forward or out to the side. Repeat 10 times. As an alternative, swing your leg back and forth quickly either front to back or side to side

3) SINGLE LEG STANDING WITH ARM SWING OR REACH OVERHEAD

To challenge yourself when performing your single-leg standing reach up over the head with either arm. Repeat 10 times. Move slowly or quickly to vary the challenge.

4) SINGLE LEG STANDING ON AN UNLEVEL SURFACE (PILLOW)
Once you can safely manage 30 continuous seconds on a level surface, challenge yourself by attempting an unlevel surface such as a pillow. Work up to 30 continuous seconds of single-leg standing.

5) TANDEM STANDING (STAND HEEL TO TOE)
Stand with one foot in front of the other as above. Maintain your balance for 30 seconds then switch, placing the other foot in front, and repeat.

6) TANDEM STANDING WHILE TOSSING AND CATCHING A BALL
To challenge yourself, toss a ball with a family member or friend (or against the wall to yourself!) while attempting to maintain your balance for 30 seconds. Switch and place the other foot in front and repeat

7) TWO-LEG STAND, EYES CLOSED
Perform this activity in a safe location (the corner of a room, next to the kitchen counter). Begin with feet comfortably apart and close your eyes. Maintain your balance. When you can safely manage 30 continuous seconds progress yourself by moving your feet closer together and then, eventually, to standing on a pillow/uneven surface.

8) SINGLE LEG STAND ON UNLEVEL SURFACE WHILE TOSSING A BALL

9) HEEL TO TOE WALKING FORWARD AND BACKWARD
Perform this activity in the kitchen with your hand lightly touching or hovering above the counter in case you lose your balance. Walk heel to toe forward. Walking the length of the counter and then walk heel to toe backward. Repeat several times.

10) SIT TO STAND FROM A CHAIR WITHOUT USING HANDS/ARMS
To increase your leg strength for getting up off of the floor, practice standing up from a chair without using your arms to assist you. If this proves too difficult at first, place a pillow or two in the chair when you first get started and then remove the pillows as you get stronger.

11) WALL SITS (WALL SQUATS)
Perform this activity against a sturdy wall. With your feet away from the wall, slide your back down the wall to end up in what appears to be a sitting position. Hold this position for 3-5 seconds and then push with your legs to slide yourself back up the wall to a standing position.

12) BRIDGES

Wall Sits Start Position
Wall Sits End Position
    (start position)                        (end position)

Article by Nancy David, PT, Frederick Clinic Manager

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