10 Simple Fall Prevention Exercises Seniors Can Do at Home
Age shouldn’t get in the way of living your best life. But as time takes its toll, older adults may find themselves losing the strength and muscle mass they once had, increasing their chances of experiencing falls.
To stay independent and active as an older adult, consider adding a fall prevention and balance exercise program into your daily routine. If you’re not sure where to start, or you’re worried about doing strength exercises alone, an expert home caregiver can assist you and make sure you’re completing the movements safely in-home.
Nurse Next Door can connect you with a qualified caregiver to help prevent falls in seniors and increase your quality of life as you age.
How to Assess Your Risk of Falling
Assessing your risk of falling is the first step toward preventing future falls. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends asking yourself three simple questions to determine your personal level of risk:
- Have you fallen in the past year?
- Do you feel unsteady when standing or walking?
- Do you worry about falling?
If you answer yes to any of these questions, you may be at a higher risk of falls.
Luckily, your fall risk isn’t set in stone. With a bit of patience and the right fall-prevention movements, you can strengthen your entire body and improve your balance enough to reduce your risk of falls as you age.
How to Prevent Falls in Older Adults
While research shows that people over the age of 65 are at a higher risk of falls, on an individual level, there are other factors that can help beat the odds. If you’re proactive about taking care of your health, you can lower your chances of unexpected falls, relieve pain, and increase your quality of life as you age.
Make sure you have proper shoes: Wear something supportive, like non-skid shoes or lace-up shoes with non-skid soles. Avoid slippery surfaces and use house shoes in place of socks when moving around your home.
Ask your doctor: Some seniors experience drowsiness or dizziness side effects if they’re taking pills for a medical condition or prior injuries. If you feel unsteady when walking around the house or have trouble with household chores, your doctor may suggest a physical therapist or home care support.
Start moving: Regular physical activity starts to matter more as you age, as falling is often caused by a lack of strength. Try creating a fall prevention program to build strength using the back muscles, gluteal muscles, and leg muscles to improve balance and strength. (Or try the specific exercises recommended by physical therapists listed below.)
10 Physical Therapists Approved Balance Exercises for Seniors
Preventing falls starts with strength training. The following exercises are physical therapists recommended and designed for all fitness levels. Start slow and only push yourself if it feels comfortable for you. If you feel any pain or injuries while doing these exercises, stop and consult your medical team.
1. Sit to stand
‘Sit to stand’ is a fall prevention movement designed to strengthen your leg muscles and improve balance by practicing standing. For those with weaker balance, sit comfortably, placing your chair near a countertop or high table so you’ll have extra support if you feel unsteady on one foot.
Putting your hands on the side of the chair may help distribute your body weight, making this move easier to achieve at the beginning. You should aim to get to a point where you don’t need to use your hands.
- Using a sturdy chair, slowly sit at the front of the seat with your legs uncrossed and feet flat on the floor.
- Bend forward, chest over your toes, as you squeeze your glutes.
- Slowly rise to a standing position.
- Repeat 10 times, twice a day.
2. Feet apart, feet together
‘Feet apart, feet together’ is good for older adults who often feel unsteady when standing or walking. Just like ‘sit-to-stand,’ this exercise is best done near a kitchen counter for extra support if you feel a bit wobbly.
Once you can do the first step in this exercise for 30 seconds, move on to the second step.
When you’ve mastered this move, try practicing with your eyes closed or push yourself by standing on one foot for an extra challenge.
- Get into a standing position with your feet shoulder-width apart. Your eyes should stay open for the duration of the movement. Hold for 10 seconds to start, building up to 30 seconds as you get more practice.
- Stand with your feet together and your eyes open. Again, hold for 10 seconds to start, building up to 30 seconds as you get more practice.
3. Single-leg stance
Another physical therapist-recommended movement is the ‘single-leg stance’ exercise. This exercise is easy on the joints and aims to improve your balance one leg at a time. All you need to complete it is a sturdy chair.
- Take both hands and place them on the back of a chair. Your feet should be flat on the floor with a slight bend in your knees.
- Lift your right leg up off the floor and hold for five seconds.
- Drop your right leg back to the floor in the starting position.
- Repeat this move five times. Each time you do this exercise, try to increase the amount of time your leg is off the floor.
- Complete the steps above, this time using the other foot.
4. Heel-to-toe walk
‘Heel-to-toe walk’ is a fall-prevention exercise that strengthens your balance while you move, focusing on your center of gravity. Make sure to wear loose, comfortable clothing and supportive shoes. You may want to stick tape in a line on your floor to ensure you’re walking in a straight line.
- Place the heel of your left foot directly in front of your right foot, making sure that the heel of your left foot is touching or almost touching the toes on your right foot.
- Step forward with your right foot, placing it in front of your left foot.
- Step forward with your left foot, placing it in front of your right foot (your first position).
- Continue to step forward using the opposite foot each time for 20 steps.
- Turn around and repeat the exercise five times.
5. Heel raise
Introducing the ‘heel raise.’ This movement helps strengthen your calf and thigh muscles to improve overall balance and flexibility and prevent falls. If you need extra help with this move, look no further than your kitchen. Using the back of a sturdy chair will give you additional balance.
- Stand behind a chair with your feet flat on the floor, shoulder-width apart.
- With a slight bend in your knees, lift your heels off the floor using the balls of your feet.
- Drop your heels back on the floor so you’re in the starting position.
- Complete two sets of this exercise, with 10–15 repetitions.
6. March in place
If you’re looking to increase your core stability and improve your balance when standing on one foot, look no further than the ‘march in place’ exercise. This physical therapist-approved exercise can help older adults prevent falls by increasing their performance in one-leg movements and building enough leg strength to avoid shuffling. You can stand near a wall or countertop for extra support.
- Stand with your feet slightly apart and your arms at your side.
- Lift your right knee up towards your chest with your left leg straight.
- Place your right knee back on the floor and repeat this move with your left knee.
- March in place, lifting your right and left knee up towards your chest for up to 30 seconds.
- Repeat five times.
7. Sideways walking
The ‘sideways walking’ fall-prevention exercise is both simple and effective. Using your legs to step sideways increases stability while having a narrow stance during this exercise can help you focus on your balance. If you want more of a challenge, add a resistance band and go lower in your squat.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart with a slight bend in your knees in a mild squat position.
- Slowly take a step to the right with your right foot.
- Bring your left foot beside your right foot, then take another step to your right with your right foot.
- Perform 10 steps and change direction.
- Repeat for another 10 steps, this time stepping to the left.
8. One-leg balance
The ‘one-leg balance’ exercise is more challenging than it looks—especially for weaker bodies—but the benefits are undeniable. Place both hands on a kitchen counter, sink, or sturdy chair for extra support. Going at your own pace will ensure you stay safe while completing the movement.
- Stand on your left leg with your right leg elevated off the floor for as long as you can, working up to 60 seconds.
- Switch to your right leg and repeat the movement.
- Repeat for five sets.
Increase the difficulty by:
- Folding your arms across your chest while completing this movement.
- Holding both arms out to the side while completing this movement.
- Folding your arms across your chest while you keep your eyes closed.
9. Hip circle
Adding ‘hip circles’ to your exercise routine is a great way to build balance. Not only do hip circles improve flexibility as you age, but they also help strengthen and stabilize the muscles around your hip joint.
- Using your hips, make a big circle in a counterclockwise direction without moving your shoulders.
- Repeat this movement five times.
- Go back to the starting position and repeat this movement in a clockwise direction.
10. Tai Chi movements
Studies show that Tai Chi is effective in preventing falls and “improving balance, muscle strength, proprioception, and endurance in older adults.” Because it’s all about slow, continuous exercises, it helps strengthen the internal muscles and support your spine, leading to better posture, alignment, and balance.
Before committing to an in-home practice, it might be a good idea to take a class. Having a qualified caregiver to transport you to your local class will help you learn the fundamentals as well as how to avoid injury. Plus, it has the added benefit of meeting new people in your community and making new friends. Win-win.