The vestibular system is largely responsible for our sense of balance. It’s a complex network of sensors within our inner ear that sends messages to our brain about the position and movement of our head (10). As we age, this system can begin to deteriorate, which can lead to problems with balance (1). There are several things we can do to help keep our vestibular system healthy as we age. One of the best things is to do balance exercises. These exercises help to keep the sensors in our inner ear functioning properly, and can also help to improve our overall balance and coordination.
Here are 10 great balance exercises for aging adults:
This exercise is great for improving balance and coordination.
To do it:
- Walk forward, placing the heel of one foot directly in front of the toes of the other.
- Be sure to keep your feet in line with each step, and don’t let your heels come up off the ground.
- Use a wall or another sturdy object for support if needed.
This exercise is similar to the heel-to-toe walk, but it’s done without moving your feet.
To do it:
- Lift one foot off the ground and balance on your toes.
- Hold this position for 10 seconds, then switch feet and repeat.
This exercise is great for improving balance and strengthening the muscles in your legs.
To do it:
- Stand on one leg with the other leg bent at the knee and raised slightly up so that it’s not supporting you.
- Hold this position for 10 seconds, then switch legs and repeat.
- If you need to, you can hold onto a chair or another sturdy object for support.
This exercise is great for improving balance and coordination, as well as strengthening the muscles in your legs and core.
To do it:
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your arms out to your sides.
- Slowly raise one leg out to the side and then swing it back behind you, keeping your arms out to the sides for balance.
- Repeat with the other leg.
This balance activity for children can also be done by adults to improve balance and coordination.
To do it:
- Make a taped line on the floor or ground
- Challenge yourself to walk on the line in a variety of ways
- Forward- walk normally heel to toe
- Backward- walk heel to toe but backward
- Side-ways- keep feet together and sidestep along the line
- Heel-to-toe but crossing in front- lift one leg and place the heel in front of the toe of the other then switch
- Swinging arms- can help with balance
Obstacle Course Stepping
This activity can be done inside or outside and is great for improving balance, coordination, and agility.
To do it:
- Set up a course using household objects such as chairs, small tables, couch cushions, etc.
The idea is to step over or around the obstacles without touching them or losing your balance.
You can also use objects that are of different heights or that require different types of stepping motions to add variety.
This activity can be done inside using a broom handle or outside using a curb, plank of wood, or something similar. It’s great for improving balance and coordination.
To do it:
- Place the object on the ground and challenge yourself to walk along it without touching the ground or losing your balance.
- For added difficulty, you can try walking heel-to-toe or crossing one foot in front of the other as you walk.
Have someone nearby to spot you in case you lose your balance.
Riding A Bicycle
Bike riding is a great way to improve balance and coordination, as well as get some cardio exercise (15).
To do it:
- Start by riding slowly around your neighborhood or on a bike path.
- As you get more comfortable, you can try riding on hilly terrain or even taking your bike off-road.
- A stationary bike can also be used and is a good option if you’re new to cycling or aren’t able to ride a regular bike.
Yoga is a great way to improve balance, flexibility, and overall fitness (16).
Many different yoga poses can help improve balance.
Some of the best balance-improving yoga poses include the tree pose, the warrior III pose, and the half Camel pose.
To do the tree pose:
- Stand with your feet together and place your hands on your hips.
- Shift your weight to one leg and raise the other leg off the ground, placing the foot flat against the inside of your thigh.
- Raise your arms over your head and bring your palms together. Hold this pose for 30 seconds to 1 minute, then switch sides and repeat.
Warrior III Pose
To do the Warrior III pose:
- Stand with your feet together and place your hand on your hip.
- Shift your weight to one leg and raise the other leg off the ground behind you.
- Lean forward from your hips and reach your arms out in front of you, keeping your shoulders down and your core engaged.
- Hold this pose for 30 seconds to 1 minute, then switch sides and repeat.
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Half Camel Pose
To do the Half Camel pose:
- Kneel on the ground with your knees hip-width apart.
- Place your hands on your lower back with your fingers pointing down.
- Lean back and arch your back, then slowly lift your chest and look up toward the ceiling.
- Hold this pose for 30 seconds to 1 minute, then release and repeat.
Sofa yoga is a modified form of yoga that can be done while sitting on a sofa. It is especially beneficial for those who are not able to stand or those who have balance issues.
Some sofa yoga poses that can help improve balance include gait awareness, down dog, tree pose, and foot-to-seat pose.
This chair-supported move improves balance in motion and awareness of foot placement.
To perform it:
- Place a chair at one end of a yoga mat
- Sit on the edge of the chair with your feet flat on the ground in front of you
- Place your hands on your knees and take a few deep breaths
- As you exhale, slowly stand up and take a step forward with your right foot
- Inhale as you bring your left foot to meet your right
- Focus on how your feet feel as they touch the ground and take a few more steps
- Repeat on the other side
This pose can be done with or without a chair for support. It helps to lengthen and stretch the spine, as well as improve balance.
To perform it:
- Start in a tabletop position facing the base of the chair with hands shoulder-width apart and feet hip-width apart
- Inhale as you lift your hips up and back, coming into an upside-down “V” shape
- Keep your feet and legs active by pressing down on the mat
- Hold this pose for 30 seconds to 1 minute.
This pose helps to improve balance in a step-up position. It’s useful for those who have trouble with coordination when stepping up.
To perform it:
- Stand next to the chair with your feet hip-width apart
- Place your right hand on the back of the chair for support
- Lift your left leg and place the foot on the seat of the chair
- Inhale as you press down into the chair to stand up, bringing your left leg to meet your right
- Exhale as you return to the starting position
- Repeat on the other side
Tai chi is a Chinese martial art that is often described as “meditation in motion”. It’s a great way to improve balance, coordination, and overall fitness (7) (9). Tai chi is low impact and can be done by people of all ages and fitness levels.
Benefits Of Balance Exercises For Seniors
There are many benefits of balance exercises for seniors, including:
Lower Risk Of Falls
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in four adults aged 65 and over falls each year. Falls are the leading cause of injury and death among seniors and can lead to a decline in overall health (11).
Balance exercises can help to reduce the risk of falls by improving coordination and muscle strength (13).
Improved Bone Health
Osteoporosis is a condition that causes bones to become weak and brittle. Seniors are at a higher risk for developing osteoporosis due to age-related changes in bone density (5).
Improved Cognitive Function
Aging makes seniors rely on others and can lead to a decline in overall health. Balance exercises can help to improve independence by improving strength, coordination, and balance (3).
Improved Quality Of Life
Exercise improves quality of life measures such as physical function, energy levels, and sleeping patterns in seniors (2). Balance exercises specifically can also help improve mental health by reducing stress and anxiety (8).
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Choosing The Right Balance Exercise
When choosing a balance exercise, it’s important to consider your fitness level and any health conditions you may have. If you have any concerns, be sure to talk to your doctor before starting an exercise program.
If you’re new to exercise, start with simple exercises and progress to more challenging ones as you get stronger. Balance exercises can be done at home or the gym. There are also many balance classes available for seniors.
Working with a personal trainer or physical therapist can also be helpful. They can design a balance exercise program that’s tailored to your needs and help you progress safely.
The Bottom Line
Balance exercises are an important part of an overall fitness program for seniors. They can help improve strength, coordination, and balance. Balance exercises can also help to reduce the risk of falls and improve cognitive function.
When choosing a balance exercise, be sure to consider your fitness level and any health conditions you may have. Talk to your doctor before starting an exercise program.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Aging of the Human Vestibular System (2015, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Association between exercise type and quality of life in a community-dwelling older people: A cross-sectional study (2017, journals.plos.org)
- Balance Exercises Circuit improves muscle strength, balance, and functional performance in older women (2016, link.springer.com)
- Balance training with multi-task exercises improves fall-related self-efficacy, gait, balance performance and physical function in older adults with osteoporosis: a randomized controlled trial (2014, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Diseases of Bone – Bone Health and Osteoporosis (2004, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Effect of Tai Chi on Cognitive Performance in Older Adults: Systematic Review and Meta‐Analysis (2014, onlinelibrary.wiley.com)
- Effect of Tai Chi on muscle strength, physical endurance, postural balance and flexibility: a systematic review and meta-analysis (2021, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Exercise for Mental Health (2006, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Health benefits of Tai Chi exercise: improved balance and blood pressure in middle-aged women (2004, academic.oup.com)
- How does our sense of balance work? (2006, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Keep on Your Feet—Preventing Older Adult Falls (2020, cdc.gov)
- Physical activity and cognition in the elderly: A review (2009, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Physical activity programs for balance and fall prevention in elderly (2019, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Tai Chi versus conventional exercise for improving cognitive function in older adults: a pilot randomized controlled trial (2022, nature.com)
- Two Pilot Studies of the Effect of Bicycling on Balance and Leg Strength among Older Adults (2013, hindawi.com)
- Yoga Is as Good as Stretching–Strengthening Exercises in Improving Functional Fitness Outcomes: Results From a Randomized Controlled Trial (2015, academic.oup.com)