Basic Exercise Guide for Older Seniors and the Infirm

Story at-a-glance -

  • Falls are the most common cause of hip fractures and traumatic brain injuries among seniors, and injuries like these may spell the end of independent living
  • Seven basic seated and standing exercises are described that can help improve balance and coordination if you’re frail or elderly, thereby reducing your risk of falling
  • Nutritional components that can quite literally make or break your bones include vitamins D, K2, and magnesium, and many elderly are deficient in all of these nutrients

By Dr. Mercola

Falls are the most common cause of hip fractures and traumatic brain injuries among seniors. They are also the leading cause of fatal injuries.

A broken hip carries a great risk of complications and usually requires prolonged specialized care, and even if you do recover, injuries like these may spell the end of independent living.

Many who have suffered injuries from falling also develop a fear of falling again. Unfortunately, once they start limiting their physical activities to “stay safe,” their risk of falling increases even more...

Preventing falls is one of the primary reasons why exercise remains so important as you get older, as improving your balance, coordination, and strength can significantly reduce your chances of falling.

I believe it’s never too late to start exercising (my mother didn’t start working out until she was 74 years old). She continues to regularly train as you can see in the above video. It is also helpful for seniors to consider more strenuous activities such as high-intensity regimens and strength training

However, many are simply too old, infirm, or frail to even consider such programs. Therefore, this article will focus on seven simple, basic exercises you can do to help improve your balance and coordination, thereby reducing your risk of falling.

Walking Is a Key Movement

Before we get into those exercises though, I want to mention the value of taking daily walks.

I have been especially sensitized to this over the last year, once I saw the light and started walking about nine miles a day. Movement is essential to good health and walking is one of the most basic movements.

My parents are now both in assisted living facilities with many older individuals, and it is clear to me that once you start relying on walkers to get around you’re on an accelerated downhill path.

So it seems quite rational that committing to a good walking program — provided you’re physically able to walk — would be an excellent investment of time and energy to avoid ever having to use a walker.

As noted by exercise researcher Dr. David Hupin of the department of clinical and exercise physiology at the University Hospital of Saint-Étienne, France:1

“Scientific evidence is now emerging to show that there may be health benefits from light physical activity and from replacing sedentary activities with light intensity activities, when the dose of (moderate-to-vigorous physical activity) is held constant.

They must become less sedentary: cooking or working at a standing desk, rather than sitting. Age is not an excuse to do no exercise.”

This year I officially became a Florida resident and I’m now able to walk on the beach just about every day as you can see in the video I created for our 18th anniversary celebration.

Basic Checklist of Tools and Considerations Before Getting Started

Among the reasons why seniors fall are poor balance and coordination, weakness in your hips and legs, poor posture, and reduced ability to lift your feet, which can lead to stumbling.

These factors — which tend to be primarily due to inactivity — can be counteracted by low intensity exercises such as those demonstrated in the featured video. Here’s a basic checklist of items you will need to perform these exercises:

  • A stable armless chair to sit in, and to use for support during standing exercises (make sure it doesn’t have wheels or slide easily)
  • Alternatively, you can do the standing exercises in your kitchen, using the kitchen counter for support. If you’re frail and are easily unbalanced, be sure to have a personal assistant with you so you don’t tip over and hit your head on a sharp corner
  • A plastic cup, no taller than six inches

Also, here are some general guidelines to consider before you start:

  • Avoid wearing rubber soled shoes, as they may increase your risk of tripping. Leather soled shoes are ideal, but make sure they’re compatible with the surface you’re working on.
  • You also don’t want your feet to slide unexpectedly, as could happen with a flat-soled shoe on carpet for example

  • Do not close your eyes during the exercise as this will dramatically increase your risk of losing your balance
  • Pay attention to your posture and weight distribution throughout standing exercises. Seek to maintain your bodyweight above your ankles, not your toes or heels
  • If you are frail and/or have poor balance, be sure to perform any and all exercises with supervision and/or assistance. These exercises may look easy, but they can be challenging, so don’t go it alone

Seated Balance and Coordination Exercises for Seniors

Begin seated in a chair that won’t move or slide easily. Start slowly, and only proceed to the next exercise once you’ve mastered or are comfortable with the previous one.

Throughout each exercise, be sure to focus on your breathing — you don’t want to hold your breath, as this may cause dizziness.  Also remain aware of your core throughout each exercise. You want to gently pull your navel back toward your spine to engage your core muscles. Again, start at the beginning with the first exercise, and only proceed to the next one when you can comfortably perform the previous one. All of the following five exercises will be performed seated.

  1. Toe Taps on Cone: Place the plastic cup, opening down, on the floor between your feet. Starting with your right leg, lift your leg up to gently tap the top of the cup with your toes, then place your foot on the opposite (left) side of the cup. Lift your right foot back over the cup, and set it down on the right side.  Repeat 10 times with each leg, alternating sides.
  2. Seated Leg Lifts: Lift your right leg with the knee bent at 90 degrees. Hold your leg up with your foot about 6 to 10 inches off the floor for five seconds. Repeat 10 times, then swit