Fall Prevention Series: Balance Exercises

By Dr. Harry Papadopoulis Good balance and mobility are important for successful performance of daily activities (e.g. climbing and descending stairs, transferring and walking) and for fall prevention. Static balance is the ability to maintain our center of mass within the base of support while standing upright. Dynamic balance is our attempt to maintain balance while leaning (e.g. picking up an object from an upper cabinet) or moving through space. Finally, mobility is the ability to move from one place to another independently and with safety. The following exercises are designed to improve static and dynamic balance, increase mobility and prevent falls. As you improve, try to incorporate one-leg standing as much as possible throughout the day. For example, stand on one leg while you are doing the dishes, waiting in line at the grocery store or at the bus stop, reading a book or watching TV. The more you do it, the more you can improve your stability. Perform the following balance exercises up to 7 days a week. Start with 8 repetitions of 2 sets, and add a repetition each week. When you are able to do 2 sets 15 times, add a third set. Work up to 2-3 sets of each exercise of 8-15 repetitions. You can progress in difficulty by decreasing support as your competence increases: Hold onto a table or chair with only one hand. Try holding on with only one fingertip. Next, try these exercises without holding on at all. Finally, try these exercises with your eyes closed. Exercise #1 1. Stand straight, holding onto a table or chair for balance. 2. Slowly bend one knee towards your chest, without bending at waist or hips. Hold for 5 seconds. 3. Slowly lower leg all the way down. 4. Repeat 8-15 times. 5. Repeat with other leg. 6. Perform another set. Exercise #2 1. Stand 12-18 inches from a chair. Bend at hips while holding onto a chair. 2. Slowly lift one leg straight backwards. Hold position for 5 seconds. 3. Slowly lower leg. 4. Repeat 8-15 times. 5. Repeat with other leg. 6. Perform another set. Exercise #3 1. Keep your arms down at your sides. 2. Lift one leg slightly off the floor and hold it for 5 seconds. 3. Repeat 8-15 times. 4. Repeat with the other leg. 5. Perform another set. Exercise #4 1. Place your feet about a shoulder-width apart. 2. Raise your hands to your shoulders with your palms facing forward. 3. Extend your left arm and place your right foot forward, pointing down with your toes and touching the floor. 4. Slowly return to starting position and do the same with the opposite arm and foot. 5. Repeat 8-15 times. 6. Perform another set. Exercise #5 1. Place your feet about shoulder-width apart. 2. Extend your arms straight in front of you. 3. Lift your right leg and bend it back. Hold for 5 seconds. 4. Repeat 8-15 times. 5. Repeat with the other leg. 6. Perform another set. Exercise #6 Walk heel-to-toe. Position your feet in front of the toes of the opposite foot each time you take a step. Your heel and toes should touch or almost touch.   Dr. Harry Papadopoulos is an Associate Professor of Exercise Science at Pacific Lutheran University and a certified Health and Fitness Instructor by the American College of Sports Medicine. His research interests are in fall prevention and physical activity interventions for older adults. You can contact Dr. Papadopoulos at [email protected] if you have any questions.