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Exercises to Help Senior Citizens Prevent Falls

written by: lizblackwood • edited by: Angela Atkinson • updated: 7/13/2011

These five simple exercises help senior citizens reduce their risk of falls by targeting balance. These exercises also help coordination, strength and flexibility.

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    Falls - A Serious Concern for Senior Citizens

    Because of physical changes, health conditions and medications, senior citizens are especially prone to falling. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, one out of every three senior citizens falls each year. These falls can lead to serious injury, including potentially fatal hip fractures, and loss of independence. Physical activity is an effective fall-prevention strategy.

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    Walking

    As a weight-bearing activity, walking helps build bone strength and can slow the progression of osteoporosis. In the event of a fall, strong bones are less likely to break. Walking also builds endurance, cardiovascular health, muscular strength and coordination. Ideally, you should walk 30 minutes several times per week. If you are not currently physically active, slowly work up to this level.

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    Standing on One Foot

    Standing on one foot is a type of postural stability exercise.
    • Stand facing a sturdy table, chair or countertop.
    • Using your hands to stabilize yourself, lift one foot slightly off the floor.
    • Hold this balance for 10 seconds before switching legs. Then, repeat both legs. Keep your lifted foot close to the floor so that you can put it back down if you begin to lose your balance.

    As your balance improves, increase the amount of time you hold the balance and lift your leg higher. For an additional challenge, turn sideways to the table or chair and support yourself with one hand. Once you are very secure, you can perform the exercise with no support.

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    Heel-Toe Walks

    This exercise works to improve your balance by challenging your ability to feel the relationship between different parts of your body.

    • Stand at one end of a hallway or a room with a lot of floor space. Extend your arms to the sides.
    • Take a small step, placing the heel of your right foot so that it touches the toes of your left foot. Then, place the heel of your left foot so that it touches the toes of your right foot.
    • Continue walking with these small steps until you get to the other end of the hall or room. Beginners should try for approximately 20 steps.

    Although it is difficult, try not to look down at your feet as you perform this exercise. Instead, look directly at a point in front of you. As you improve, increase the number of steps you take by turning around and walking back to your starting point.

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    Knee Curl

    Knee curls strengthen the hamstrings, the muscles in the back of the thigh. Strong hamstrings make walking easier and safer. Because this exercise is performed on one foot, it challenges your ability to balance.

    • Stand facing a sturdy table, chair or countertop and use your hands to stabilize yourself.
    • Lift your foot off the ground behind you, with your foot flexed.
    • Slowly bring your foot towards your buttocks and then slowly return it to the floor.
    • Perform 10 repetitions with your right leg and 10 repetitions with your left leg.

    As you progress, repeat the entire sequence. For an additional challenge, you can add light ankle weights.

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    Knee Extension

    Knee extensions strengthen the quadriceps, the muscles in the front of the thigh. Quadriceps work with the hamstrings as you walk and climb stairs. These muscles are especially important for rising from a seated position.

    • Sit up straight in a chair, preferably one without arms. Place your hands on your thighs.
    • Flex your right foot and slowly straighten your right leg in front of you. Then, slowly return to the starting position.
    • Perform 10 repetitions with the right leg and 10 with the left leg. Keep the movements smooth so that you use muscular strength, and not momentum, to straighten your legs.

    As you progress, repeat the entire sequence. For an additional challenge, you can add light ankle weights.

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    Warning

    Consult your doctor before beginning any exercise program. Depending on your level of physical ability, some exercises may require supervision.