Incorporating strength & balance exercises into a walk

Walking is an excellent form of low impact exercise – especially for older people. For those people who are new to exercising, lead a sedentary lifestyle or are in a deconditioned state, walking as the only form of exercise can help to increase leg strength. However, as the body adapts, walking alone isn’t sufficient to improve leg strength and balance.

A Canadian study found that “women who walk at least 10,000 steps a day have no greater muscle strength and perform no better on tests of balance and agility than women who walk fewer than 7,500 steps”. Therefore, it is important to also be doing regular leg strength and balance exercises to complement any walking or aerobic activities (i.e. swimming, cycling). 
One way which you can increase your leg strength and balance is by adding a few simple strength and balance exercises into your usual walking routine.

Here’s how to do it:

When you are out walking next, find a nice spot where you can stop to do these exercises, ideally an area that has a support (such as a fence, tree or back of a bench seat) to help with your balance.

Depending on your strength and ability, aim to do between 8-15 repetitions of each of these exercises (see below). Start with a lower number and gradually build up the repetitions you can do. Do one exercise, have a brief rest, then move onto the next one. If you can, aim to do all these exercises a few times each time you go for a walk. 

1. Squats

  • Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart, toes pointing forwards
  • Squat down as if you were going to sit in a chair (if you are near a bench seat or low concrete block etc you can sit down). Only squat down as low as feels comfortable for you
  • Push down into the ground through your heels and stand back up

2. Side leg raises

  • Stand with both feet together
  • Lift one leg out to the side as far as you feel comfortable, keeping your leg in line with your body
  • Remember to exercise both legs!

3. Leg curls

  • Stand with both feet together
  • Bring the heel of one foot up towards your bum by bending your knee
  • Don’t lift your leg too high especially if you are susceptible to getting cramps
  • Remember to exercise both legs!

4. Calf and toe raises

  • Stand with both feet close together, toes pointing forwards and soles of your feet flat on the ground
  • Rise up onto your tip toes, hold briefly, then return to the starting position
  • Lift your toes off the ground, hold briefly, then return to the starting position

5. Knee Extensions

  • Stand with feet shoulder width apart
  • Lift one knee up off the ground as high as you feel comfortable, lower leg hanging straight down
  • Slowly extend your leg like you are kicking a ball. Don’t swing your leg!
  • Return to the starting position
  • Repeat the movement, alternating legs

6. Lunges

  • Stand with both feet together
  • Take a large step forward and sink down so both knees are slightly bent
  • Extend your front leg return to the starting position