By strengthening your ankles you can improve balance and reduce risk of injury.

In this blog I am going to concentrate on ankle exercises. Ankles provide the base for all movement therefore strong ankles can lead to better balance and reduce the likelihood of injuries and falls. Balance is the ability to maintain control on the base of support to avoid falling and this is important whether you just walk to the door or play tennis every day.

Seated alphabet ankle exercise

  1. Whilst sitting raise your right leg and using the ankle trace the letters of the alphabet from A-Z, imagining your big toe as a writing instrument.
  2. Change legs and repeat.

Seated ankle circles

  1. Slowly move your right foot in a circle moving clockwise. Repeat this movement six times.
  2. Then slowly move the same foot in a circle counter-clockwise. Repeat this movement six times.
  3. Repeat the entire exercise with the left foot.

Standing ankle exercise

  1. If needed use wall or chair for support, rise up onto the toes.
  2. Hold for 8 counts
  3. Lower heels to the floor in a controlled manner
  4. Repeat 4 times

Seated ankle exercise

  1. Sit back into the chair for support
  2. Sit tall with good posture, your thighs should be together and your knees bent with feet apart
  3. Keeping knees together, and with heels on the floor lift your toes towards the knees. This is the starting position
  4. Rotate both feet inwards, lifting toes towards the knees so toes point towards each other – hold for a few seconds
  5. Place feet on floor and gently slide feet along back to start position
  6. Build up repetitions as ankle strength increases.

Advanced ankle exercise

  1. Whilst balancing on one leg, using chair or wall for support if needed, rise up on toes
  2. Hold for 8 counts (work up to this if necessary)
  3. Lower heel to the floor in a controlled manner
  4. Repeat 4 times and then switch feet.

So 5 exercises that require no warm up and take 5 minutes of your day, you could do 3 of them whilst watching TV in the evening. By strengthening the muscles in the ankle you will have you a greater ability to maintain your balance and help avoid that trip to A&E discussed in the previous blog.

If  you have any questions on this article, or any questions about exercise and the over-50s please post a comment.

For more information on Personal Training please go here Whole Life Fitness, Personal Training for the over-50s This will open a new browser window.

Every year over 400,000 older people in England attend A&E departments following a fall.

Falls are a major health problem among older adults. Every year over 400,000 older people in England attend A&E departments following a fall. 30% of over 65yrs will fall each year, rising to 50% of 85yr olds[i].

Why does the risk of falling increase?

  • Deterioration in muscle strength and balance
  • Failing vision
  •  Medication which can increase the risk of, or be the cause of, falls[ii]

Research has shown that just the fear of falling can increase the risk of falling [iii]. Women have the added problem of osteoporosis which places them at greater risk of breaking a bone if they do have a fall. Most falls take place when performing everyday activities and it is estimated that 30-40% of falls can be avoided.

So how can you reduce the risk of falls?

Balance and mobility training can reduce the risks of falling in later life. There have been 5 skills identified which are needed for better balance:

  • The ability to walk and turn the head at the same time
  •  The ability to extend the hip backwards
  • The ability to reach down and pick up something from the floor
  •  The ability to reach up above one’s head
  •  The ability to stand on one foot for five seconds

These provide a guideline to plan a personalised exercise program which should also include posture exercises and stretching.

To challenge balance it could be as simple as changing the base of support from standing on a firm surface such as the floor to standing on a foam base. The challenge should gradually increase as balance improves such as combining changing base of support with movement i.e. standing on a wobble board whilst reaching up to be passed an object or to catch a ball. Balance and mobility exercises also include such activities as marching on the spot, calf raises, balance on one leg with support and step up and step down to name but a few.

Balance and mobility exercises have positive effects on everyday activities such as:

  • Improve the ability to stand on a bus or train as they help develop the ability to maintain and regain balance
  • Walking in poor lighting as they improve non-visual sensory input for better balance
  • Going for a walk in the park, over cobble stones or pavements as they help to maintain and regain balance when ground levels change or when stepping over and around obstacles
  •  Climbing up and down stairs as they increase leg strength and core stability

Other activities which can help (in addition to specific balance exercises) are walking, water workouts, tai chi[iv] or yoga. Such activities reduce the risk of falls by improving strength, balance, co-ordination and flexibility.

Falls can be devastating to the affected individual and in some cases cause death. Even lesser falls can lead to loss of self-confidence and reduced quality of life.

My next blog  will describe some balance and mobility exercises that you can do at home. If you have any questions please post a comment.

Staying Steady – Age UK

Whole Life Fitness, Personal Training for the over-50s

[i] ( DOH 2001)




Resistance exercises using body weight – no equipment required!

Following on from last weeks blog about the benefits of resistance exercise I thought I would talk about 4 exercises you could do at home 2 lower body and 2 upper body.  All are using your own body weight so no equipment needed – just 15 minutes of your time.

Firstly have a 5 minute warm up, this could be

  • walking around your garden
  • going up and down the stairs
  • marching on the spot

Try and get your arms involved as well, maybe by doing some bicep curls bringing your hands up to touch your shoulders and then back down to your sides. The idea is to get your heart rate up and get the blood flow going to your muscles. It can also serve to clear your mind and get you in the mood to do some exercise.

The usual thinking is to have stretches between warm up and main exercise programme however this is now being challenged with little evidence that static stretching prevents injury or subsequent muscle soreness[i].  Once you are warm I would prefer to go straight into the session rather than risk you cooling down.  We will do a few stretches at the end.

Step Ups

Step ups are a great functional exercise, most of us climb stairs everyday. The exercise will work your bottom, hamstrings, quadriceps and also your calves.

  1. Find a step, preferably one next to something you can use for balance if needed (e.g. a banister or a wall)
  2. Leading with your left foot step up making sure your whole foot is on the step.  Keeping the left foot on the step, step your right foot up onto the step. Both feet are now on the step.
  3.  Step back down, leading again with the left leg and bringing your right foot down to join it on the floor.
  4. Do 10 steps leading with your left leg and then ten leading with your right. You should be trying to work up to 1 minute on each leg.

This exercise is also great for getting your heart rate up.

Wall slides

  1. Stand upright with your back against a wall, feet shoulder-width apart
  2. Walk feet 12 inches from the wall
  3. Slowly bend your knees, sliding your back down the wall for a count of five until your knees are bent at a 45-degree angle. Do not worry if you can not reach a 45-degree angle, go down as far as is comfortable for you. You should not be in any pain.
  4. Hold this position for 5 seconds
  5. Begin straightening your knees for a count of five, sliding up the wall until you are fully upright with knees straight

Repeat this 5 times.

Wall push up

This  exercise will work your chest shoulders and triceps and is excellent if you want to strengthen the chest muscles but have back problems.

  1. Stand facing a wall roughly 1 metre away. Place hands on the wall at chest height and shoulder width apart with fingers pointing to the ceiling, there should be a slight bend in the elbow.
  2. Bend your arms (whilst inhaling) and your body will lean towards the wall, you should be aiming to get a 90 degree bend at the elbow but don’t worry it you can’t do this at first just lower yourself as far as it feels comfortable.
  3. Push off the wall (whilst exhaling) until your arms are back in the starting position with elbows slightly bent.

Repeat 10 times.

Standing Wall angel

Poor posture can lead to all sorts of problems and this back strengthening/shoulder mobility exercise can help prevent that.

  1. Stand flat up against a wall with your back to the wall and feet about shoulder-width apart.
  2. Press the small of your back into the wall and bend your arms to that the backs of your arms and hands are pressed against the wall at a 90-degree angle to your body.  If you can’t get your arms against the wall do not arch your back just take elbows back until you feel a stretch.
  3. Move your arms up the wall, keeping your wrists and elbows pressed against the wall (if you can). You are aiming to get the hands together above the head, but again don’t worry if this isn’t possible yet just do the range of movement you are capable of.
  4. Lower hands to the starting position.

Repeat 10 times.

If you feel any pain or dizziness during these exercises then please stop.

Stretching is important as research has shown flexibility declines 20-50% between the ages of 30 and 70 years. It deserves (and will get) a blog post to itself, for now here are 4 stretches that you should do after performing the above exercises.

Quadricep stretch

  1. Stand with your feet hip width apart and knees slightly bent
  2. Bend knee and grab the front of the ankle and pull the foot towards the bottom until a stretch is felt in the front thigh.
  3. Hold for 10-15 seconds, release and change legs.

Hamstring stretch

  1. Stand with your feet hip width apart and knees slightly bent
  2. Place hands on hips and take a small step forward keeping the front leg straight and slightly bending the rear knee. Lean forward from waist keeping back straight.
  3. Hold for 10-15 seconds, release and change legs.

Chest stretch

  1. Stand with your feet hip width apart and knees slightly bent
  2. Place your hands on your hips just above the bottom with palms facing the body and move the elbows backwards until a mild stretch is felt.
  3. Hold for 10-15 seconds and then release.

Upper back stretch

  1. Stand with your feet hip width apart and knees slightly bent
  2. Clasp your hands together in front of you with palms facing the body
  3. Straighten the arms and gently raise to shoulder height
  4. Make a round back by easing the shoulder blades apart and lower the chin slightly.
  5. Hold for 10-15 seconds and release.

All done!

If you have any questions on this article, or any questions about exercise and the over-50s please post a comment.

For more information on Personal Training please go here Whole Life Fitness, Personal Training for the over-50s This will open a new browser window.


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22-08-11 15 minutes of exercise a day can increase your life expectancy

31-08-11 Exercise, just a little, could curb elder memory loss: study

Why it’s never too late to pick up a weight

Done properly, safely, and consistently, exercise has been shown to slow and even reverse age-related disease. A study entitled “Do muscle mass, muscle density, strength and physical function similarly influence risk of hospitalization in older adults?”[1] 3,000 people in the 70-80 age group found weak strength, poor function and low muscle density were associated with a greater risk of hospitalisation.

Research shows that muscle strength declines by 15 percent per decade after age 50, and 30 percent per decade after age 70. Think about everyday activities, such as rising out of a chair unaided, getting out of the bath or putting shopping away: without a basic level of muscle strength and power to draw upon, the simplest of tasks can become impossible which has a massive impact upon the individual’s potential to be independent and hence on their psychological well-being.

Resistance programs can help reverse and prevent muscle loss and is a type of strength training that can use body weight, free weights, exercise machines, or elastic bands (dynabands) to strengthen muscles. The following are benefits of resistance training.

  • Improved muscular strength. The ability to shift heavy objects in house or garden
  • Improved muscular endurance. The ability to move weight around repeatedly such as climbing the stairs
  •  Increased bone strength. A decreased risk of fractures.
  •  Increased lean tissue. Increase metabolic rate and improve body composition

There is also evidence that older individuals with greater muscular strength may have a lower risk of developing mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease, according to research published in the November issue of the Archives of Neurology[2].

Resistance training can also aid weight management as muscle tissue is metabolically active and the more of it you have the more calories you will burn making maintaining a healthy weight much easier. The recommendation for an active, independent older adult is resistance training should be done on up to 4 days per week and a whole body approach should be employed. However this is a goal that Whole Life Fitness can help you achieve rather than a starting point If you have any questions about this article or resistance training please leave me a comment and I will get back to you as quickly as possible.

Whole Life Fitness, Personal Training for the over-50s

[1]Do muscle mass, muscle density, strength, and physical function similarly influence risk of hospitalization in older adults?

[2]Association of Muscle Strength With the Risk of Alzheimer Disease and the Rate of Cognitive Decline in Community-Dwelling Older Persons

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