Over 60? Walk This Way Every Day

Mature couple walking together with water bottles
Heel-to-toe walking helps prevent falls and injury by improving balance.
Image Credit: EmirMemedovski/E+/GettyImages

Once you're over 60, doing balance exercises is crucial. That's because falls are the leading cause of injury and injury death among adults ages 65 and older, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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One of the simplest balance activities of all is heel-to-toe walking. Making simple stabilizing movements, like the heel-to-toe walk, a regular part of your exercise routine can greatly reduce your risk of falls. And depending on your age and fitness level, you may be able to do them right at home, on your own.

You'll reap the biggest benefits by starting heel-to-toe walking before you notice your balance starting to decline, explains New York-based physical therapist Sam Becourtney, DPT, CSCS.

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"By the time you reach 50, you'd want to be engaging in balance activities, as function starts to decline slowly. Even if you're not noticing it every day, you can get ahead of it," Becourtney says.

That said, it's still worth starting later in life — in your 60s, 70s, or beyond — after you've noticed a drop in your ability to walk steadily. But if your balance is already compromised, it may be worth trying heel-to-toe walking under the guidance of a physical therapist.

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How to Do Heel-to-Toe Walking

Heel-to-toe walking involves making a conscious effort to strike the ground with your heel and transition to the ball or toe of your foot, versus landing with a flat foot or landing on the ball of your foot.

"If you were actively practicing it, you'd think consciously about fully extending your knee as you step forward," Becourtney says.

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Sounds simple, right? That's because many people already walk heel to toe without even thinking about it.

"It's natural human anatomy, but as we get older and start to lose some knee and ankle mobility or have pain, you might start to move in another way," Becourtney explains. But once you get the hang of it, you can gradually adjust to make it your standard stride as well.

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Becourtney recommends practicing heel-to-toe walking for one or two steps at a time until you get a feel for it. (If you're walking with assistance or recovering from an injury, seek the help of a physical therapist.)

"Say you take a 60-minute walk every day, for 10 minutes, you can focus on heel-to-toe walking and build up from there," he says.

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Goal Improve Balance
  1. Stand on a firm surface next to a wall or chair, holding it for stability as needed.
  2. Lift your dominant leg, driving your knee up. Then, fully extend your leg and reach your foot forward and step down, letting your heel strike first, followed by the ball of your foot.
  3. Finish your reps and then repeat with the other leg.

Progression: Heel-to-Toe Step

Once you've nailed down heel-to-toe walking, you can incorporate the heel-to-toe step into your regular walk.

JW Player placeholder image
Goal Improve Balance
  1. Start standing next to a wall or chair, holding it for stability as needed.
  2. Lift your dominant leg, driving your knee up. Then, fully extend your leg and reach your foot forward and step down, letting your heel strike first, followed by the ball of your foot.
  3. As soon as the ball of your foot hits the ground, drive your opposite knee up and repeat.
  4. Walk across the length of the room with this movement pattern.

Why Heel to Toe Walking Is So Important for Healthy Aging

Balance exercises like heel-to-toe walking offer several big benefits. Here are five important reasons to make this move a part of your regular routine.

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1. It Helps Prevent Falls and Injuries

As stability naturally declines with age, the risk for falls and debilitating injuries like hip fractures goes up. "The earlier you can engage in balance exercises, the more you can decrease that risk," Becourtney says.

Knowing that you can walk steadily is good for your mental wellbeing too. In addition to actually reducing fall risk, regularly engaging in balance training allows you to walk more confidently and feel less afraid of falling, according to a May 2015 study in Clinical Rehabilitation.

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2. It Makes It Easier to Do Everyday Activities

We rely on our balance to perform day-to-day activities safely and with relative ease. Single-leg balance exercises, like heel-to-toe walking, can improve your ability to walk up and down steps or stand up from a chair or the toilet, Becourtney says.

You'll be better able to tackle things you enjoy too, from getting down on the ground to play with grandkids to bending or squatting while working in the garden.

3. It Helps You Maintain Your Independence

Being able to stand, walk and balance without worrying about falling makes it easier to do things with little or no help. That can help you be independent for longer, per the Mayo Clinic.

4. It Makes Walking Feel Easier

Once you get the hang of heel-to-toe walking and it becomes your default way of getting around, you may actually find that you have a little more pep in your step.

"Heel-to-toe walking preserves some energy in the legs to allow you to walk longer or faster, compared to some other gait patterns," Becourtney explains.

5. It Can Boost Brainpower

Balance training exercises, like heel-to-toe walking, can help improve body awareness and coordination, which are linked to memory and spatial skills.

Adults who did balance exercises significantly improved their memory and spatial cognition, according to a small July 2017 study in ​Scientific Reports​.

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