Want to Age Well? Make Toe Raises Part of Your Daily Routine

Toe raises build balance, strengthen your lower leg muscles, improve mobility and increase blood flow to your heart.
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com Creative

Practicing balance is like eating kale: You know it's good for you, but it's not always the first choice on your menu.

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But if you want to grow into your golden years gracefully, you should seriously start prioritizing balance. Because so many things you do in your daily life, like going for a walk or climbing stairs, requires it. In other words, without balance, you won't be able to accomplish all the daily activities you need to stay independent as you age.

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One body-weight exercise in particular — toe raises — boasts big benefits in the balance department. Not to be confused with calf raises (where you lift your heels), toe raises involve, well, raising your toes (and the front of your feet) off the floor.

Not only does this move build better balance, but it also strengthens your lower leg muscles, improves mobility and increases blood flow to your heart — all major advantages for healthy aging.

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The bonus? You don't need to invest a ton of time to reap the benefits of toe raises. A few minutes a day will do the trick.

How to Do a Toe Raise

For the best results, you'll want to aim for a higher number of reps (i.e., do as many toe raises as you can until you can't perform another rep with good form), Grayson Wickham, DPT, CSCS, founder of the Movement Vault, tells LIVESTRONG.com. A range of 15 to 20 reps is a good place to start.

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Try doing two to three sets at least twice a week, along with other active ankle stretches, to maintain maximum mobility and healthy joints, Wickham says.

JW Player placeholder image
Sets 2
Reps 15
Goal Improve Balance
  1. Stand up tall with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Come back onto your heels, lifting the toes and the front of your feet off the floor. Only your heels should remain on the ground.
  3. Pause briefly, then lower your feet to the ground.
  4. Repeat for 15 to 20 reps.

Why Toe Raises Are the Best Exercise You Can Do for Healthy Aging

1. They Strengthen the Shin and Ankle Muscles

"Toe raises are a great exercise to help you build strength, mobility and stability in the muscles located on the front of your ankle and lower leg," Grayson says.

These muscles — especially the tibialis anterior, which is a muscle in front of the shin — enable you to lift your toes and foot upward (an ability called ankle dorsiflexion).

Here's why that matters: Strong ankle dorsiflexion muscles can prevent pain and injury in your knees and ankles, Wickham says. And as we get older, this is particularly important because we're more prone to problems in our joints, including, you guessed it, our knees and ankles.

What's more, "during the aging process, muscle mass and strength progressively decrease," Wickham says. But when your ankle and shin muscles are weak, you'll struggle to do just about every movement, especially walking.

Fortunately, you can help offset these age-related losses by strategically strengthening these lower leg muscles and training with toe raises, Wickham says.

2. They Help With Balance

"Having adequate strength and control of your ankle dorsiflexor muscles can also help improve your balance," Wickham says.

That's because to be steady on your feet, you must have sufficient mobility, stability and strength in all the muscles that surround your ankle (as well as your hip), he explains.

Not to mention, toe raises also enhance your body awareness ((known as joint proprioception) at your ankle joint, which can improve your overall balance and reduce your fall risk, Wickham adds.

And because falls became more common with age — one in four older Americans will have a spill every year, and a fifth of these falls will contribute to a serious injury, such as broken bones or a head trauma, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — good balance is crucial for seniors.

3. They Improve Ankle Mobility

Adding toe raises to your daily training can help you maintain ankle mobility, which is monumental for healthy aging.

"Adequate ankle mobility is the prerequisite needed for performing many movements in life and in the gym such as walking, running, squatting or bending down to pick something up," Wickham says.

But when your ankle joint is tight and it can't move like it should, other joints must compensate, Wickham says. Problem is, these compensatory behaviors frequently lead to wear and tear in those joints — most often the knees — and produce pain or injury, he explains.

For example, tight ankle muscles can restrict your dorsiflexion while walking and cause your gait to be suboptimal (think: dragging your feet on the ground), Wickham says. This not only increases your odds of falling but also places stress on your knee joint and/or your big toe, he says.

In fact, "one of the biggest reasons for big toe bunions [a foot-related condition that's more common in older adults] is having limited ankle mobility," Wickham adds.

That's why toe raises — which strengthen and stretch the ankle muscles — are a terrific tool for improving mobility, balance and coordination.

4. They Boost Blood Flow to the Heart

Toe raises can even benefit your ticker.

"Your veins rely on your muscle contractions to help aid blood flow back to your heart," Wickham says. And the veins around your feet and ankles have the most challenging time returning blood to your heart due to gravity (and the long distance to the heart), he says.

That's where ankle exercises, like toe raises, come in handy. They can help facilitate blood flow by assisting your veins to transport blood (via muscle contraction) back to your heart and, in the process, supply it with all the oxygen and nutrients that it needs, Wickham says.

And, as we know, a healthy heart is linked to a longer life.

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Toe Raise Modifications

If your ankle or shin muscles are tight or weak, toe raises might be rough at first. But don't fret: You can build up your strength, mobility and balance by starting with these modifications. Each alternative offers varying degrees of support, which is especially helpful if you find yourself feeling a little wobbly.

Eventually, with time and consistency, you'll grow strong enough to be able to perform standard toe raises.

Toe raise modifications order of most to least challenging:

  • Standing toe raises (with both feet) while holding onto a wall or chair.
  • Standing toe raises one foot at a time (no wall or chair support).
  • Standing toe raises, one foot at a time, while holding onto a wall or chair.
  • Seated toe raises with both feet.
  • Seated toes raises, one foot at a time.

JW Player placeholder image
Sets 2
Reps 15
Goal Improve Balance
  1. Stand up tall with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Come back your right heel, lifting the toes and the front of your right foot off the floor. Only your right should remain on the ground.
  3. Pause briefly, then lower your right foot to the ground.
  4. Perform the same action with your left foot, and continue alternating feet.
  5. Repeat for 15 to 20 reps.

Tip

Conversely, if toe raises are easy for you and you’re looking for a challenge, you can also increase the difficulty level by incorporating resistance bands or placing the handle of a light kettlebell on the front of your foot, Wickham says.

“This will provide more resistance to your ankle dorsiflexion muscles,” he says.

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