Maintaining muscle strength, balance in later years

Many people recognize that their strength has diminished over the years, but have lost sight of just how much. Only when performing certain movements does reality set in, making it apparent that its time to ‘use it or lose it’. When muscle is lost, activities are harder to do and this may show up as avoiding certain tasks, moving at a slower pace, a sense of heaviness or feeling more sluggish. One of the most telling signs of atrophy is loss of balance. It might pop up initially as a feeling of unsteadiness when walking, or you may notice it when reaching forward or turning to the side. Thankfully, steps can be taken to improve overall strength, without spending hours at the gym or buying fancy equipment. In fact, the best exercises use body weight for resistance and can be done almost anywhere. Examples:

Standing on one leg. This one has many variations, the easiest of which is to simply lift one foot from the floor while balancing body weight on one leg. To increase difficulty, the knee would come up higher, or the leg is straight but lifted to the front, side or to the back. Performing balance exercises with eyes closed is another way to increase difficulty, but is not recommended for the beginner.

Sitting to Standing and vice versa. One way to assess physical ability, including balance, is to include functional exercises into your routine. These moments simulate activities that we would do on a regular basis but may have altered due to gradual weakness. For example, do you use your arms to push yourself from a seated to standing position? Do you ‘plop’ down when sitting? With the Sit to Stand, the goal is to stand up using the leg/hip muscles rather than the arms. With the Stand to Sit the goal is to guide bodyweight down with the rear end softly touching the seat. The benefits? Greatly improved lower body strength for daily activities such as walking, going up and down stairs, cleaning, getting in and out of a car, etc.


For safety and peace of mind, get a doctor’s clearance before beginning a new exercise program. In addition, stand next to a sturdy surface when working on balance, and have a person with you if possible. If balance is poor, lightly holding onto or touching a countertop, table, or other object helps to feel more at ease, allowing for greater focus on the task at hand.

It is not uncommon to do well on a particular movement one day, only to find it feels difficult the next. This is the nature of training, and stems from many factors, so don’t get discouraged. Instead, focus on the objective, to promote independence and improve quality of life.

Balance training promotes the strength of stabilizing muscles, and with consistency and patience improvement occurs. Signs that you are progressing might be holding a position for a longer period of time, advancing to more challenging exercises or less need to hold on.

Not all balance problems stem from lack of strength. Other factors may include medical conditions/medications, alcohol use, hearing or visual impairments, and safety hazards in or around the home such as loose cords or rugs, etc. Taking preventative measures sooner rather than later will help you to avoid potential problems.

Marjie Gilliam is an International Sports Sciences Master certified personal trainer and fitness consultant. She owns Custom Fitness Personal Training Services LLC. Send email to

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