Geriatric Exercises for Balance & Gait Training
Exercising to improve your balance and gait are important aspects of geriatric care. Improving your ability to walk and move can prevent injuries and falls and increase quality of life. Improving your muscle strength will also have a positive impact on your bone health. Talk to your doctor about exercises that are right for your current health state. Many balance and gait exercises are easy enough to perform at home and do not require additional equipment.
Before You Start
Similar to other strength and endurance exercises, begin balance and gait exercises slowly and use support as needed. Start by using both and then one hand to maintain balance, eventually working up to using just one finger before not using your hands at all. Take breaks when you feel tired and vary your exercises to reduce risk of muscle soreness.
You can perform several balance exercises while standing and holding the back of a chair. Rising up onto your toes is an excellent way to test your balance. Bring one heel toward your buttocks to perform a standing knee flexion. March in place slowly, raising your knee in front of you as high as you can. Straight leg raises are also beneficial; you can raise your leg in front, to the side or behind you to improve your balance. Perform up to 15 repetitions and two sets, resting between sets and as needed during repetitions.
Your gait, or the way you walk, is greatly affected by your bones and muscles. Practicing walking and placing your feet correctly can help improve your gait. Simply walking on a treadmill can affect different gait parameters; you can improve your speed and stride length by walking regularly. Stepping over objects or placing your feet down within a circle can also improve your mobility. Place two or more soft objects on the floor, 12 to 16 inches apart. Hold onto a railing or someone's hand and step one foot carefully between the objects, stopping between each object. Once you have mastered this exercise, try walking through without pausing.
Movement of your eyes and your head are both vital to your balance, posture and gait. Practicing tracking motions with your eyes and head can support your ability to look up and around you while you are still or moving. Hold on to a chair with your non-dominant hand, and stand with your feet on the floor. Hold up the thumb of your dominant hand and hold it out in front of you, keeping your elbow bent. Look at your thumb and move your hand slowly to the left as far as is comfortable, following the movement using only your eyes. Continue moving your hand to the right, then up and down while tracking with your eyes. Repeat the movements while tracking with both eyes and head.
- "Journal of Geriatric Physical Therapy"; Effect of Treadmill Training on Specific Gait Parameters in Older Adults With Frailty: Case Series; M. Oh-Park, M.D., et al.; April 2011
- Balasukumaran T, Olivier B, Ntsiea MV. The effectiveness of backward walking as a treatment for people with gait impairments: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Clin Rehabil. 2019;33(2):171-182. doi:10.1177/0269215518801430
- Elnahhas AM, Elshennawy S, Aly MG. Effects of backward gait training on balance, gross motor function, and gait in children with cerebral palsy: A systematic review. Clin Rehabil. 2019;33(1):3-12. doi:10.1177/0269215518790053
Christy Callahan has been researching and writing in the integrative health care field for over five years, focusing on neuro-endocrinology. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in biology, earned credits toward a licensure in traditional Chinese medicine and is a certified Pilates and sport yoga instructor.