Do you ever feel unsteady on your feet?
Do you worry about falling?
Women have an increased risk of bone fracture with falls owing to the decline in bone density that starts at around 40 years.
Falls are a leading cause of hospital admission, death and disability in western countries however most of us tend to take our balance for granted and do little in the way of balance exercises to prevent falls.
Balance exercises can improve balance and confidence when moving and are readily incorporated into everyday activities.
Balance training warrants a much higher priority in mainstream women’s exercise than it currently receives!
Read on now for exercises to improve your balance with:
- 7 standing balance exercises to reduce your risk of falls
- General exercises that improve balance and reduce the risk of falls
7 Standing Balance Exercises
Balance Exercise 1: Stride Stand
- Stand with your feet apart in stride position, one foot in front of the other and count to 10
- Repeat with the other foot positioned forwards
- Progress by: reaching your arms forwards in stride stand to reaching sideways in stride stand
Balance Exercise 2: Heel Raises
- Stand facing the wall, the back of a chair or kitchen bench and hold with both hands for support
- Raise your body by lifting both heels off the ground and hold this position for 10 counts before lowering your heels back to starting position
- Progress by: holding onto the supporting surface with one hand only, fingertips and then no hands
Balance Exercise 3: Single Leg Stand
- Stand facing the wall and hold the wall with both hands
- Raise one foot off the ground for 10 counts
- Repeat with the other foot
- Progress by: holding the wall with finger tips, one hand, no hands
Balance Exercise 4: Toe Raises
- Stand with your back to the wall, lean back and roll onto your heels as your toes lift off the ground and both arms raise forwards before returning to start position
- Position the back rest of a chair in front of your body for added support with your hands if you feel unsteady and inclined to fall forwards
Balance Exercise 5: Heel-to-Toe Walking
- Walk forwards along a flat surface (e.g. hallway) heel-to-toe
- Progress with: backwards heel-to-toe walking
Balance Exercise 6: Sideways Walking
- Walk along a flat surface with side steps feet coming together with each step
- Repeat sideways walking leading with the opposite foot
- Progress with: grapevine walking crossing the leading leg in front and then behind your body as you step sideways
Balance Exercise 7: Step Ups to Step Downs
- Step up forwards and onto a low step and step back down
- Progress by: standing side on to the step before stepping up and down sideways, step over the step, step up backwards onto the step
Safety Tips for Step Up Balance Exercises
- Support your body by stepping next to a wall or using doorway for support if you feel unbalanced
- Use a low step for practice to minimise the risk of knee pain and avoid repeated stepping if you have or are at increased risk of knee problems
Principles for Standing Balance Exercises
- Start with a stable stationary position (static balance)
- Progress to a less stable position by adding movement (dynamic balance)
- Try to avoid looking down at the ground during balance exercises
- Practice balance regularly (on at least 3 days per week or even more)
- Seek supervised guidance if your balance is poor or with increased risks or falls and fracture (e.g. established osteoporosis)
- Progress balance exercises gradually – everyone has a different capacity for upright balance.
General Standing Balance Exercises
Some general whole body exercises can help promote balance to reduce the risk of falls.
Whole body exercises for training standing balance include:
- Walking – starting with flat surfaces, progressing to undulating surfaces, increasing speed, changing direction and treadmill walking
- Tai Chi – has been shown to reduce fear of falling and risk factors for falls in older adults1
- Yoga balance poses – balance practice in poses e.g. balanced standing, single leg poses
- Posture exercises – posture exercise assists in promoting upright standing and reduces the risk of falls
- Leg strength exercises -exercises that strengthen the leg muscles can reduce the risk of falls e.g. squat exercises for thigh strengthening)
- Calf Stretching – tight and shortened calf muscles can increase the risk of falls. It only takes a minute to stretch your calf muscles after your daily walk.
Unfortunately the importance of balance exercises is often underrated in women’s exercise programs. These 7 standing balance exercises are simple and easily incorporated into everyday activities or exercises. Practicing balance exercises on a regular basis will help improve your balance and your confidence – they are a positive step you can take towards reducing your risk of falls.
1 Wolf SL1, Barnhart HX, Kutner NG, McNeely E, Coogler C, Xu T. (1996) Reducing frailty and falls in older persons: an investigation of Tai Chi and computerized balance training. Atlanta FICSIT Group. Frailty and Injuries: Cooperative Studies of Intervention Techniques J Am Geriatr Soc. May;44(5):489-97.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR, Michelle Kenway
Michelle Kenway is a Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist and author of Prolapse Exercises Inside Out. Prolapse Exercises is a complete exercise guide for women with prolapse and includes pelvic floor safe exercises for osteoporosis.