Ask the Expert: Exercises for Better Balance

Kristin Schulz, a physical therapist and geriatric specialist affiliated with Sharp HealthCare, answers frequently asked questions about exercise and balance.

How can I prevent myself from falling?
The best way to prevent yourself from falling is to participate in a regular exercise program three to four times a week, especially one that addresses balance, even if we’re just talking about going for a daily walk. A strong body equals fewer falls and a regular routine can improve your strength, flexibility, endurance and balance.

What muscles should I focus on?
You especially want to concentrate on strengthening your legs, your hips, your knees and your ankles. These are the most important muscles and joints to maintain your balance and to prevent a fall. One of the easiest exercises that I recommend to all of the patients that I see you can do easily in your own home and it’s to perform repeated sit-to-stands. So all you do is have your hands lightly next to your sides or you can have your arms crossed for more of a challenge and you just go ahead and stand up, slowly on your way up and slowly on the way down. Repeat at least 5 to 10 times. You can also rise up onto your toes, holding onto a chair for support if you need it and that’s gonna help strengthen your ankles, which will help improve your balance. So I would recommend doing at least 10 raising up onto your toes, 2 to 3 times a day, depending on how your endurance and your strength are.

Do I need to wear a specific type of shoe while I exercise?
I recommend for people to do the exercises with supportive shoes. That way, they can feel more stable when they’re doing the exercises. Make sure the shoes that you pick fit you well, that they don’t slip off your heel and that they provide traction, but not too much traction. You want to avoid running-type shoes that have the rubber material that rolls over the toe because many times seniors may trip on that rubber, especially on thick carpet. So I usually recommend people to buy a well-fitting shoe, such as SAS shoe. Usually these shoes are designed with seniors in mind and they have a very sturdy support but also fit very well and that’s the type of shoe you are looking for.

What other activities can I do to help with balance?
Tai chi is great for balance. It’s an Eastern exercise that has been simplified and adapted to emphasize balance, weight shifting, coordination and postural training. 

Can yoga help me with balance problems?
Yoga can also benefit people with their balance. Yoga can be done in all different positions so you can go ahead and do yoga in a chair and you can do yoga lying down. It’s all about improving your strength, your flexibility, as well as your posture, which are all crucial to balance.

For More Information
To learn more about Sharp's senior health services or to find a Sharp-affiliated physician, search for San Diego doctors or call 1-800-82-SHARP (1-800-827-4277), Monday through Friday, 8 am to 6 pm. To find general information about senior health, read the Senior Health News archive.