Fitness: a key to avoiding falls in older adults

Keeping active helps seniors avoid falls

Staying physically active and exercising regularly can help prevent or delay some diseases and disabilities as people grow older. Older people have much to gain from staying active. Furthermore, Exercise is the most widely studied single falls prevention intervention and is one of the most important actions seniors can take for their health. Recent findings show that exercise can reduce falls risk by 22-46%.* Older adults at risk of falling should have exercise routines that are specifically designed to maintain or improve balance, strength, and endurance.

How Much Activity Do Older Adults Need?

It is recommended that seniors exercise at least three days a week for best results. To stay healthy or to improve health, older adults need to do two types of physical activity each week: aerobic activity and muscle-strengthening exercises. These should work all major muscle groups, including legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms.

You don’t need a gym to exercise.

Walking, gardening, and household chores are all physical activities that keep you moving, active and fit.

Major benefits of staying active:

  • Maintains muscle strength
  • Strengthens bones; slows down the process of osteoporosis
  • Keeps joints, tendons and ligaments more flexible, making it easier to move around
  • Increases energy
  • Strengthens heart and lungs
  • Promotes a sense of well-being

Recommended Exercises for Older Adults

Be sure to consult with your physician before beginning an exercise program. The exercises suggested here do not substitute for a program provided by your health practitioner.

Strengthening Options

Exercises from a sitting position

Do not overdo it. Start slowly and build the number of repetitions gradually. Use a firm chair.

Neck stretches

  • Side Bends: Tilt head sideways as if to touch ear to shoulder.

    Right: Hold 10 secs., 10 reps
    Left: Hold 10 secs., 10 reps

  • Chin to Chest: Bend chin forward to chest.

    Hold 10 secs., 10 reps

Arm raises

  • Raise arm up, pause at the top for 2 seconds and bring down.

    Right arm: 10 reps
    Left arm: 10 reps
    Both arms: 10 reps

Back stretching and strengthening

  • Legs apart, place hands on each side of right knee. Slide hands from knee to ankle and return to upright sitting position.

    Right knee: 10 reps
    Left knee: 10 reps

Seated marching

  • Alternate lifting knees to chest as if marching.

    Right leg: 10-15 reps
    Left leg: 10-15 reps


  • Make sure to sit as straight as possible. Place arm straight out in front and then pull arm back with elbow next to your side.

    Right arm: 10 reps
    Left arm: 10 reps
    Both arms: 10 rep

Ankle range of motion

  • Point toes up as far as possible and then down as far as possible. Rotate both feet.

    Clockwise: 20 reps
    Counterclockwise: 20 reps

Knee extension

  • Straighten knee, pause and then lower foot back to floor.

    Right leg: 10 reps
    Left leg: 10 reps

Small kicks

  • Straighten and bend knee, as in a kicking motion.

    Right leg: 10-15 reps
    Left leg: 10-15 reps

Exercises from a standing position

To maintain balance, use a kitchen counter or the back of a sturdy chair that doesn’t have wheels.

Calf stretch

  • Hold back of chair. Step back with right foot, keeping foot straight. Lean forward, keeping right heel on floor.

    Right leg: Hold 30 secs., 3 reps
    Left leg: Hold 30 secs., 3 reps

Lateral leg swing

  • Hold back of chair. Move right leg straight out to side without bending knee or waist. Keep toes pointed forward.

    Right leg: 10 reps
    Left leg: 10 reps

Hip flexion and extension

  • Hold the back of a chair and bring your knee up as close to your chest as possible, trying not to bend at the waist.

  • Slowly lower your leg and swing it straight behind you without bending your knee. Then lower it back to the starting position.

    Right leg: 10–15 reps
    Left leg: 10–15 reps

Heel and toe raise

  • Stand straight, feet shoulder-width apart, rise up on toes, pause and lower back down. Then lift toes, keeping heels flat, and lower back down.

    Both feet together: 10 reps


  • Hold back of chair. Bend knees as far as is comfortable. Keep back and head up straight and behind toes, as in diagram. Then return to standing position.

    10 reps

Side-to-side twist

  • With feet shoulder-width apart, slowly twist your upper body from right to left. Stand as straight as possible.

    10 reps

This educational material was developed by Philips Lifeline in collaboration with registered physical therapist Maryellen Madden.

* secs. = seconds
* reps = repetitions

Aerobic Options

  • 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity
  • 1 hour and 15 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity
  • An equivalent mix of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity


  • Many community centres and health clubs offer senior swims and low-impact exercise options, such as walking groups, water aerobics, and Aqua Zumba.
  • Always a consult with your healthcare provider or geriatrician before you start an exercise program.

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