women exercising

How to Increase Your Strength and Balance

We’ve been encouraged to stay home, and for many people that means limited activities, limited classes, and limited fitness center access. But just because you’re not getting out and about as much, it doesn’t mean your strength, balance, and overall activity level is destined to decline.

Exercise, even simple exercise, is the key to longevity.  Those who keep moving enjoy a better quality of life, have more independence, and find they have better mood and mental outlook, even in times of a pandemic.

Dana Mason, Kendal at Lexington’s therapy program manager offers several ways to maintain or even improve your balance and strength – right in your own home.

These simple exercises the three main areas: core or abdominals, upper body, which includes chest, shoulders, arms and back, and lower body, glutes or buttocks, legs, calves, and ankles.


These should be at the core of your routine. Keeping the core strong improves strength and balance, but also gait.

  • One simple way to strengthen the core, or abdominals, is to challenge yourself to sit unsupported while doing tasks. Sit comfortably with your feet on the floor, but don’t rest your back against the chair. You can read, fold laundry, or do food prep while sitting this way and get a core workout at the same time.
  • Another way to sneak in core strengthening exercises is to remember to hold in your stomach – while standing at the kitchen sink, while walking, any time you think about it.
  • For a more mindful approach, hold in or squeeze the muscle for 10 seconds, then release. Repeat this for a set of 10. If you can do a second set of 10 later in the day, then add it to your routine.

Upper Body

Simple household items like canned goods or milk cartons can become hand weights and add resistance to your routine. A towel, cane, or stick can also be used. These exercises can be done sitting, or for extra challenge, do them standing.

  • For shoulders – arm raises both out to the side and military press (arms pushing above your head) can be done without any weights, but you can work up to a more challenging set and add weight as you go.
  • Bicep curls are easy to work in while watching TV or reading.

Lower Body

Our biggest muscle groups are our buttocks or glutes, and our legs (quadriceps). The trouble is, as we age, these muscles don’t get as much work, especially if we had sedentary jobs or spend most of the day sitting.

Bridges can be done before you get out of bed in the morning. You don’t need to get down on the floor. While lying on your back, life your buttocks off the floor and squeeze. Repeat for 10 reps.  

Other lower body exercises can be done seated or standing. What’s important is to modify the exercise to your ability level, then set a challenge to either increase reps or move from sitting to standing. The benefits of these simple exercises are many – increasing your range of motion and muscle tone as well as improving balance and strength.

  • A great basic seated exercise is extending your leg in front of you, then squeeze or flex the muscles in your upper leg (the quadriceps) before setting your foot back down. Try for 10 reps on each leg.
  • Ankle pumps – Rotate the foot an ankle clockwise for a 10 reps, then switch direction and rotate counterclockwise for 10 reps. Repeat on the opposite foot.
  • Hip abduction and adduction while seated. For hip abduction, start with your knees together, then pull them apart. If you have a fitness band, you can use this for added resistance. For adduction, squeeze the legs together so the knees meet. You can use a pillow between the legs for added resistance.  Any increased range of motion will help improve your ability to move freely while walking.
  • Standing exercises. Use a sturdy chair, sink or counter to keep your balance. For hip extensions, keep your leg straight and raise behind you while squeezing the buttocks. Try for 10 reps and repeat with the other leg.  
  • The second standing exercise is to raise your leg out to the side (similar to the hip abduction). This is an area that is usually weaker for most people. Raise and lower for a count of 10, then repeat on the other side.
  • Squats. One of the first things we notice from sitting too long is the stiffness and difficulty in getting up out of a chair. Squats are a great way to counteract that. You can do squats while standing and holding onto a chair or sink. Don’t over extend, even a mini-squat of a few inches will be effective.
  • For a greater challenge, try sitting in a chair and getting up again without using your hands.

One of the best things about exercise is that we’re never too old to see improvement. An increase in strength or balance can be motivating and encouraging.

One past resident had been hospitialized three times for congestive heart failure. The first two times she went through rehab and was able to walk again. She was hospitalized the third time because she let the exercise habit go. On her third visit to rehab she said, “I get it. I can’t go home and be lazy, I’ve got to keep moving.”

Whether you stay indoors and knock out a few squats and bicep curls, or take to the walking trails around Kendal’s campus, you’re doing something priceless for yourself. Give yourself the gift of movement for a stronger body, clearer mind, and overall better health.

Remember: Listen to your body. If you have increased pain or dizziness, sit down and notify nursing or your doctor if these persist. As with any exercise program, modify the exercises to your ability and work your way up slowly.