6/17/2022 | By Kari Smith

Losing one’s balance can lead to very serious injuries including hip fractures, broken bones, brain or head trauma, or even death. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 36 million falls are reported yearly in adults over 65, and more than 32,000 of those falls are fatal. Fortunately, exercise can help – even easy, low-impact exercises to maintain balance, like heel raises, squats, and more.

For some of us, high-powered Zumba classes with sweat-inducing choreographed routines to up-tempo Latin beats are out of the question. Simply standing and walking steadily across the room after being seated for a while may be an effort. Fortunately, there are simple exercises to maintain balance and improve mobility, no matter your fitness level.

Exercises like the ones below can improve your balance – therefore reducing your fall risk. You can do them daily, in the comfort of your own home.

Exercises to maintain balance

These exercises are listed in order of level of difficulty, which may vary slightly based on your specific mobility issues. Pinpoint the ones that work for you, and build a routine that you can repeat two to three times daily.

1. Heel raises

Start simple. Stand in front of your kitchen counter or another stationary object of similar height and lift both heels off the ground, standing on your tiptoes. Complete 2 to 3 sets of 10 reps each. Gradually work your way up to completing this exercise without holding on to the counter.

2. Single leg lifts

Couple doing exercises at home - photo by Ruslan Huzau, Dreamstime. Losing balance can lead to serious injuries especially for older adults. Exercises to maintain balance can help: squats, leg lifts, etc.

As with any exercises to maintain balance, be sure to support yourself, especially at the beginning. Hold on with both hands to a countertop or a sturdy chair that can support your weight without tipping. For single left lifts, simply lift your foot off the ground, bending your knee, as high as you feel comfortable, while keeping a straight back and relaxed shoulders. Hold your foot off the ground for 10 seconds. Start with three repetitions of 10 seconds each, and work your way up to a longer time interval, if you can. Alternate legs. You can make this exercise more difficult by holding on with only one hand, or with no hands, if you feel comfortable.

If you’re looking for a greater challenge, lift your leg in front of you, keeping your knee straight.

3. March in place

As simple as it may sound, marching in place is great for improving balance and hip strength. Remember – this is marching, not walking. You will want to lift your knees up high while still being comfortable. Begin with your feet shoulder-width apart. Holding on to the back of a couch or a kitchen counter, lift one knee up toward your chest and set it back down. Alternate legs. Lift your knees with a straight back; do not lean to the side as you lift the opposite knee. Begin with five marches on each alternating leg (for a total of 10 counts), working up to 10 repetitions or more, if possible, for each leg.

4. 3-way hip extensions

Don’t underestimate the importance of hip strength and flexibility in helping maintain balance. Using a counter or sturdy chair, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Lift one leg off the ground and extend it forward in front of you, then back to shoulder-width stance planted on the ground. Next, extend the leg out to the side and return. Finally, extend the leg behind you, then return. Repeat the same three-part exercise on the other leg. Start small with 3 to 5 repetitions on each side, and working up to 10 repetitions or more, if possible, for each leg.

5. Squats

Squats are among the great conditioning exercises as well as exercises to maintain balance. Squats are especially for those who feel unsteady while standing up from a seated position, or sitting down from a standing position.

Related: Chair exercises to do at home

First, stand in front of a kitchen counter or stationary object of similar height, with a sturdy chair behind you. If you do lose your balance while doing the exercise, the chair will be there to catch you. Holding on to the counter, bend your knees, as if you are going to sit down, then stand again. If you lack mobility in your knees, squat only slightly until you feel comfortable with the exercise. Do 2 to 3 sets of 5 to 10 squats, starting small and working up to your comfort level.

General guidelines

As you begin these exercises to maintain balance, if you don’t feel comfortable doing more than one set, break it up into two or three sessions a day. As you you gain balance, strength, and mobility, you can add repetitions, hold a stance longer, bend deeper, even ditch the counter and chair.

Pair your routine with something that you already do two or three times a day – such as brushing your teeth or watching TV – to keep yourself on track. You can even try them outside, next to a sturdy fence or bench, to break up the routine.

Even though you may not feel immediate progress in doing these exercises, your body will experience the difference when making sudden, unexpected moves – such as when walking a dog, going up or down steps, and sitting down or standing up. Make these exercises part of your daily routine.

Kari Smith

Kari Smith is a frequent contributor to Seniors Guide, helping to keep those in the senior industry informed and up-to-date. She's a Virginia native whose love of writing began as a songwriter recording her own music. In addition to teaching music and performing in the Richmond area, Kari also enjoys riding horses and farming.

Kari Smith