Lifestyle » Vol. 14

Lower Body Exercise: Improve Your Strength and Balance

By Missy Adams

Improving lower body strength will help to improve your balance, and better balance means reduced risk of falls. These exercises are recommended by the National Institutes of Health. But before you start your exercise program, read these safety and general tips for lower body exercise, and check with your doctor before beginning any exercise program.

Hold onto a table or chair for balance when you use only one hand.

As you progress, try holding on with only one fingertip. When you feel comfortable with one fingertip, try the following lower body exercises without holding on at all. If you feel it’s necessary, ask someone to watch you the first few times, in case you lose your balance.

If you are very steady on your feet, move on to doing the exercises using no hands, with your eyes closed (often very difficult even for the most advanced athletes and dancers!). Have someone stand close by if you are unsteady.

Side Leg Raises: strengthen muscles at the sides of hips and thighs

1. Stand straight, directly behind table or chair, feet slightly apart.
2. Hold table or chair for balance.
3. Slowly lift one leg to side, 6 to 12 inches out to the side.
4. Keep your back and both legs straight.
5. Don’t point your toes downward; keep them facing forward during this exercise. Hold this position.
6. Slowly lower leg. Repeat with other leg.
7. Keep back and knees straight throughout exercise.
8. Alternate legs until you repeat exercise 8 to 15 times with each leg.
9. Rest. Do another set of 8 to 15 alternating repetitions.

Hip Flexion: strengthen thigh and hip muscles

Use ankle weights if you are ready.

1. Stand straight; hold onto a table or chair for balance.
2. Slowly bend one knee toward chest, without bending waist or hips.
3. Hold position for 1 second.
4. Slowly lower leg all the way down. Pause.
5. Repeat with other leg.
6. Alternate legs until you have done 8 to 15 repetitions with each leg.
7. Rest; then do another set of 8 to 15 alternating repetitions.

Add weights as you progress.

Hip Extension: strengthens buttock and lower back muscles

Start with no weights; add ankle weights if you are ready.

1. Stand 12 to 18 inches from a table or chair, feet slightly apart.
2. Bend forward at hips at about 45-degree angle; hold onto a table or chair for balance.
3. Slowly lift one leg straight backwards without bending your knee, pointing your toes, or bending your upper body any farther forward.
4. Hold position for 1 second.
5. Slowly lower leg. Pause.
6. Repeat with other leg.

Alternate legs until you have done 8 to 15 repetitions with each leg.
7. Rest; then do another set of 8 to 15 alternating repetitions.

Add modifications as you progress.

Balance Exercises You Can Do Anywhere, Anytime

These “anytime, anywhere” exercises will help you improve your balance and you can do them as often as you like, as long as you have something sturdy nearby to hold onto if you become unsteady.

• Walk heel-to-toe. Position your heel just in front of the toes of the opposite foot each time you take a step. Your heel and toes should touch or almost touch.

• Practice standing up and sitting down without using your hands.

• Stand on one foot. You can do this while waiting in line at the grocery store or at the bus stop. Remember to alternate feet!

Balance Exercise:  Checking Your Progress

It feels good to know that you’re making progress, and with balance exercises the change can be very subtle. Here’s how to tell when your balance is improving:

• Time yourself as you stand on one foot, without support, for as long as possible.

• Stand near something sturdy to hold onto in case you lose your balance.

• Repeat the test while standing on the other foot.

• Test and record your scores each month.

How much balance exercise do I need, and how often?

With any exercise program, it’s important to remember this phrase: “Everything in moderation.”

The NIH recommends that you don’t increase your regularly scheduled strength exercise sessions to incorporate these balance modifications. Remember: you can do more harm than good by doing strength exercises too often. Don’t exercise the same set of muscles 2 days in a row. Simply do your strength exercises and incorporate these balance techniques as you progress.

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