Some people love to exercise, even competing in marathons well into their senior decades, or engaging in vigorous competitive sports. For others, getting up to change the channel instead of using the remote counts as daily exercise.
Wherever you fall along this spectrum, you don't want to fall down. Statistics show that about one-third of those 65 and older experience falls, and almost half of those who take a tumble will fall again within a year. What's worse, studies have shown that 10 to 15 percent of those who fall will sustain a fracture.1 And even if someone doesn't break a bone, researchers have found that falling can lead to functional decline, social withdrawal, anxiety, and depression.1
Today we're going to focus on a trio of lower body exercises designed to help improve your balance, build strong bones, and prevent falls and potential fractures.
A Question Of Balance
According to research, falls can lead to a gradual decline in health and quality of life. In fact, hip fractures, which are commonly associated with falls, cost the U.S. healthcare system nearly $9 billion a year.2
Once someone experiences a fall, the fear of falling becomes internalized, and this fear itself is detrimental to senior health and well being. Anxiety about falling has been associated with impaired mobility and an unwillingness to engage in social activities. As a result, older adults who have fallen are at greater risk of ending up in a care facility, regardless of whether or not they have been injured in a fall.3
Clearly, improving your coordination and balance are key to prevent falls.
The Crane: Skyward Single Leg Balance
Weight-bearing exercise that helps improve balance not only strengthens your bones and prevents fractures, it also boosts brain health. Scientists have found that people who can't stand on one leg for more than a few seconds have an increased risk of tiny brain bleeds, which raises the risk of both stroke and dementia.4
One of the best ways to enhance your balance is by imitating a crane, standing on one leg. At first, it's a good idea to stand near a wall, table, or another piece of stable furniture you can grab onto if you feel yourself starting to lose your balance.
Standing on one leg strengthens two important muscles that stabilize and support your entire lower leg, as well as your knee and hip: the gluteus medius and the soleus. The gluteus medius, on the outer surface of your pelvis, stabilizes your hip and provides a strong base of support.
The other important muscle for maintaining good one-legged balance is your soleus, which is one of two calf muscles running down the back of your lower leg and eventually becoming part of your Achilles tendon. Any stability issues or knee pain when climbing a hill or stairs is likely due to a weak soleus. The Crane will strengthen both, helping to increase stability when standing and walking.
- Raise your face and both arms skyward, keeping your arms slightly curved, with palms facing inward.
- Lift your right leg out in front of you, just a foot or even a few inches off the floor.
- Hold this pose for as long as you can without wobbling. If possible, set a timer, so you know exactly how long you were able to stand on one leg.
- Aim to improve your time in this pose until you can hold it for a minimum of 5 to 7 seconds (balance ability decreases with age). The longer you can hold The Crane pose, the more you'll improve your balance.
- Switch legs and repeat.
You will probably notice your ability to balance is stronger on one leg than the other. Now you know which side needs extra balance training.
Try this related flamingo trick during the day to aid your balance practice.
Standing on one leg significantly improves balance by strengthening the often-neglected gluteus medius and soleus muscles. Stronger muscles help build bone, which in turn helps prevent falls and fractures.
The Derby: Skate Shaper For Strength And Agility
Did you roller skate as a child? If so, you probably never gave a second thought to how you were building bone and balance. The Derby is a strength and agility exercise that isn't quite the same as conventional roller skating, but, it will tone your glutes, hamstrings, thighs, and core.
This type of strengthening squat and balance improver is a lower body powerhouse for strong bones, helping to build bone density in the pelvis, femur, knees, and ankles.
- Start in a modified skater's squat, arms in front of you, bent up from the elbow. A skater squat is a modified squat using only one leg, making it easier on your knees.
- Stretch your right leg out to the side, then bring it back in, keeping the knee bent.
- Stretch the same leg out behind you, then back, keeping the knee bent.
- Repeat five times, then switch legs.
Depending on your fitness level, try to work up to 20 reps with each leg.
Imitating a roller skater is a fantastic lower body exercise that works the glutes, thighs, hamstrings, and core, strengthening your bones to help minimize the potential for falls and osteoporosis.
Lunge Plunge Balancer
Calling all power skaters: if The Derby was a breeze (or simply stimulated your motivation), get ready for the Lunge Plunge Balancer. Just as you can tone your abs and improve balance without crunches, these lunges are a bit like riding a bicycle, and you can do them on your living room floor instead of on the road or in a spin class.
Lunges work your femur, the front thigh bone that articulates at the hip and the knee. A strong femur helps to prevent fractures in two ways: by improving balance, which decreases with age, and by building bone strength.
- Start with your right knee on the floor, left leg bent, left arm at your side, right arm bent.
- Bring yourself to a standing position, and raise your right knee in the bent position before returning to the lunge — almost as if you were riding a bicycle.
- Swing your arms as you go through the exercise so that they mirror your leg movements.
- Switch knees, and repeat.
Try to do at least half a dozen Lunge Plunge Balancers on each side. If you have any knee issues, be sure to place extra padding under your legs before you begin this exercise.
Just as you can build strong abdominals without crunches, this exercise simulates the benefits of bicycling but is an even better bone builder because it's weight bearing. Be sure to protect your knees as you work to protect your bones.
Stay Strong, Safe, And Supple
Research has proven that we can continue to build bone and maintain strong muscles well into our elder years.5
By exercising regularly to enhance balance and coordination, as well as for building bone, you can stay strong, supple and safe as you age.
Take Exercising For Your Bones to the Next Level!
Learn the 52 exercise moves that jumpstart bone-building – all backed by the latest in epigenetics research.
1 Sarah D. Berry et al., “Falls: Epidemiology, Pathophysiology, and Relationship to Fracture”, Curr Osteoporos Rep. 2008 Dec; 6(4): 149–154. Web. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2793090/#R6/
2 Ray NF, Chan JK, Thamer M, Melton LJ 3rd, “Medical expenditures for the treatment of osteoporotic fractures in the United States in 1995: report from the National Osteoporosis Foundation.” J Bone Miner Res. 1997 Jan; 12(1):24-35. Web. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9240722/
3 Tinetti ME, Mendes de Leon CF, Doucette JT, Baker DI. “Fear of falling and fall-related efficacy in relationship to functioning among community-living elders.” J Gerontol. 1994 May;49(3):M140–147. Web. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8169336/
4 Gui bin Song et al., “Effect of dual tasks on balance ability in stroke patients”, J Phys Ther Sci. 2015 Aug; 27(8): 2457–2460. Web. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4563289/
5 Walston JD. “Sarcopenia in older adults.” Current Opinion in Rheumatology. 2012 Nov; 24(6): 623-627. doi: 10.1097/BOR.0b013e328358d59b Web: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4066461/