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Balance exercises help prevent a common problem in older adults: falls. In older people, falling is a major cause of broken hips and other injuries that often lead to disability and loss of independence.
Some balance exercises build up your leg muscles; others improve your balance by requiring you to do simple activities, like briefly standing on one leg.
Try standing on one foot, then the other. If you can, don't hold on to anything for support. Get up from a chair without using your hands or arms. Every now and then, walk heel-to-toe. When you walk this way, the toes of the foot in back should almost touch the heel of the foot in front.
Stretching can help you be more flexible. Moving more freely will make it easier for you to reach down to tie your shoes or look over your shoulder when you back the car out of your driveway. Stretch when your muscles are warmed up. Don't stretch so far that it hurts.
Although research hasn't proven -- yet -- that stretching exercises can improve your ability to live on your own and do things independently, studies are underway. Already, physical therapists and other health professionals recommend certain stretching exercises to help their patients recover from injuries and to prevent injuries from happening in the first place. Flexibility also may play a part in preventing falls.

Who Can Exercise?

Almost anyone, at any age, can do some type of physical activity. You can still exercise even if you have a long-term condition like heart disease (see Heart Disease and Exercise) or diabetes (see Diabetes and Exercise). In fact, physical activity may help.
For most seniors, exercises like brisk walking, riding a bike, swimming, weight lifting, and gardening are safe, especially if you build up slowly. But check with your healthcare provider first if you are over 50 and you aren't used to energetic activity. You also should check with your healthcare provider if you have:
  • Any heart disease risk factors.
  • Diabetes risk factors.
  • Any chronic conditions.
  • Any new, undiagnosed symptoms.
  • Chest pain.
  • Irregular, rapid, or fluttery heartbeat.
  • Severe shortness of breath.
  • Ongoing, significant, and undiagnosed weight loss.
  • Foot or ankle sores that won't heal.
  • Persistent pain or problems walking after a fall (you might have a fracture and not know it).
  • Eye conditions such as bleeding in the retina or a detached retina. Also, consult your healthcare provider after a cataract removal or lens implant, or after laser treatment or other eye surgery.
  • A weakening in the wall of the heart's major outgoing blood vessel, called an abdominal aortic aneurysm.
  • A narrowing of one of the heart's valves, called critical aortic stenosis.
  • Joint swelling.
If you have had hip repair or replacement:
  • Check with your healthcare provider before doing lower-body exercises
  • Don't cross your legs
  • Don't bend your hips farther than a 90-degree angle
  • Avoid locking the joints in your legs into a strained position.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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