Balance training is an important part of any workout routine, especially among older adults, who might be at a greater risk for falls.1 However, balance training isn’t just for older folks; it can also benefit those who have had a stroke,1 athletes,2 and, really, anyone who wants to improve their resistance to falls.
What is Balance Training?
The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition defines balance training as, “Static and dynamic exercises that are designed to improve individuals’ ability to resist forces within or outside of the body that cause falls while a person is stationary or moving.”3 Balance training focuses on strengthening the core, legs, glutes, and back.4,5 Some examples of balance exercises include walking heel-to-toe, walking backward, using a wobble board, lateral leg lifts, yoga poses (e.g., tree pose), and Tai Chi1–5
At its core, balance training focuses on improving stability. One major benefit of balance training is that it reduces the risk of falls; as such, it is recommended that older adults and others at risk of falls incorporate balance training into their lives.1–3,5 The American Heart Association recommends that older adults participate in balance training at least three days per week.1
A 2019 mini-review found that, in addition to improving postural control, balance training could also benefit cognitive performance in areas such as memory, spatial cognition, and attention. The authors concluded that an eight-week balance and coordination exercise program could be used to improve quality of life in older adults.6
Various studies have shown the benefits of balance training in preventing athletic injuries. Among soccer players, incorporating balance training, either alone or in combination with an injury prevention program, significantly reduced the risk of ankle injuries.7 A study focusing on high school basketball and soccer players found that rates of ankle sprains were lower among players who participated in a balance training program, compared to those who did not undergo balance training. The authors noted that the implementation of balance training could reduce the risk of ankle sprains among this population by 38 percent.8
Having a stroke often causes balance issues due to impairments in motor and cognitive functions.9 As such, balance training is essential to improve quality of life and prevent falls and other balance-related injuries among individuals who have had a stroke. In one study, conventional balance training and wobble board training with or without visual feedback were found to be effective in improving balance in people with ambulatory stroke; wobble board training with visual feedback was found to be especially beneficial, as providing visual feedback increased the individual’s awareness and allowed them to correct their positioning.9 In another study, authors demonstrated that both conventional balance training and rapid movement training improved overall balance and reduced the risk of falls in people with chronic stroke.10
Here are three simple, adaptable exercises you can do to improve your balance:
1. One-leg balance
Position yourself beside a wall or behind a chair. Raise your leg and hold for 10 to 15 seconds, grabbing the chair or wall for support if needed. Repeat on the other side.
2. Sit to stand
Sit on a kitchen chair (or any other hard, immobile chair). Stand up without using your hands to assist you. Repeat several times.
3. Lateral leg lifts
While standing, slowly left one leg up and to the side, holding onto a chair for balance. Slowly lower the leg and repeat on the other side.
Editor’s note: Please consult with a qualified healthcare professional to determine what type of exercise is right for you.
- American Heart Association. Balance exercise. Reviewed 18 Apr 2018. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/fitness/fitness-basics/balance-exercise. Accessed 27 Sep 2022.
- Watson S. Balance training. WebMD. Reviewed 23 Nov 2020. https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/a-z/balance-training. Accessed 27 Sep 2022.
- United States Department of Health and Human Services. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition. US Department of Health and Human Services; 2018.
- Achauer H. Can you pass the 10-second balance test? New York Times. 12 Aug 2022. Updated 13 Aug 2022. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/08/12/well/move/balance-exercises.html. Accessed 27 Sep 2022.
- Fletcher J. What are the best balance exercises for different ages and fitness levels? Medical News Today. 8 Jul 2022. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/balance-exercises#benefits. Accessed 26 Sep 2022.
- Dunsky A. The effect of balance and coordination exercises on quality of life in older adults: a mini-review. Front Aging Neurosci. 2019;11:318.
- Al Attar WSA, Khaledi EH, Bakhsh JM, et al. Injury prevention programs that include balance training exercises reduce ankle injury rates among soccer players: a systematic review. J Physiother. 2022;68(3):165–173.
- McGuine TA, Keene JS. The effect of a balance training program on the risk of ankle sprains in high school athletes. Am J Sports Med. 2006;34(7):1103–1111.
- Valodwala KC, Desai AR. Effectiveness of dynamic balance training with and without visual feedback on balance in ambulatory stroke patients. J Clin Diagn Res. 2019;13(5):1–4.
- Junata M, Cheng KCC, Man HS, et al. Kinect-based rapid movement training to improve balance recovery for stroke fall prevention: a randomized controlled trial. J Neuroeng Rehabil. 2021;18(1):150.