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The 10 Best Foot and Ankle Exercises for Seniors

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senior woman smiles at camera while doing a lunge on a yoga mat

As we age, our bodies lose the flexibility and mobility we had when we were younger. You can still be a flexible, mobile adult if you do daily stretching and exercising. 

Adding some stretches and simple exercises into your daily routine can help improve your balance, strength, and mobility, as well as prevent muscle pain. 

Try doing these exercises at home, or you can participate in fitness groups that align with your comfort level to make these exercises an effortless part of your daily routine. 

1) Toe Raise, Point, & Curl

The toe raise, point, and curl stretch can strengthen all parts of your feet and toes. This stretch helps improve flexibility and prevents foot pain. 

To perform the toe raise, point, and curl, follow these steps:

  1. Sit in a comfortable chair with your feet flat on the floor
  2. Start by raising just your heels (keep the balls of your feet on the floor)
  3. Hold this position for 5 – 10 seconds, then relax
  4. Next, raise your heels again & point your toes 
  5. Only the bottom of your big toe should be touching the floor*
  6. Hold this position for 5 – 10 seconds, then relax
  7. Lastly, raise your heels again & curl your toes inward
  8. Only the tips of your toes should be touching the floor 
  9. Hold this position for 5 – 10 seconds, then relax
  10. Repeat as needed 

We recommend repeating this exercise 10 times a day to build flexibility and mobility in your feet. If these are new movements for your toes, it might feel a bit uncomfortable at first. You shouldn’t push yourself (if it’s painful, stop and readjust).  

Keep practicing this stretch every day and watch your flexibility improve. 

* Don’t worry if it’s hard to point your toes—it should get easier with practice!

2) Achilles Stretch

The Achilles stretch is a great way to improve flexibility and mobility. 

The Achilles tendon is a fibrous cord connecting your calf muscles to your heel. It can be easily strained, so stretching regularly helps strengthen these muscles and prevent foot, ankle, and leg pain.

To perform the Achilles stretch, follow these steps:

  1. Make sure you have ample space beside & behind you
  2. Face & place your palms flat against a wall 
  3. Slide one foot straight back & keep your leg straight
  4. Slightly bend your other knee (closest to the wall)
  5. Keeping both heels flat on the floor, gently push your hips forward*
  6. Hold your stretch for 30 seconds & switch sides
  7. Repeat as needed (usually, 3 times per side is recommended)

You should feel this stretch in your calf muscles and ankles. Try to do this stretch every day to promote mobility. If nothing else, we recommend doing this stretch before and after physical activity, such as walking or swimming, to prevent leg, ankle, or foot pain. 

* You should naturally need to bend the knee closest to the wall as your push your hips forward.

3) Ankle Circles

Ankle circles are an easy, feel-good stretch to improve your range of motion. You can do this stretch sitting or lying down (you can even do this in bed before you go to sleep). 

To perform ankle circles, follow these steps:

  1. Start by putting a rolled towel or foam roller under your ankle
  2. Slowly rotate your ankle (like you’re drawing a circle in the air with your toe)
  3. Turn each ankle 10 times clockwise & counterclockwise*
  4. Repeat as needed

You can “draw circles” with your big toe, or you can switch it up by writing letters with your toe. Either stretch will work for improving your ankle flexibility and range of motion. 

* Only move your foot and ankle, your leg shouldn’t move during this stretch. 

a woman in a yellow shirt is sitting and reaching for her right foot on a yoga mat

4) One-Leg Balance

Balancing on one leg helps strengthen your entire foot, ankle, and leg. This exercise helps improve the stability of each leg and your balance overall.

To perform a one-leg balance, follow these steps:

  1. Stand on a flat surface with your feet shoulder-width apart
  2. Use a chair, table, or wall for extra support (if needed)
  3. Hold your arms out to your sides & lift one foot off the ground*
  4. Hold this position for as long as you can 
  5. Relax & switch sides (do this at least twice per leg)
  6. Repeat as needed

Once you can stand on one foot for 60 seconds, you can try making this exercise a bit more challenging. You could try variations like:

  • Balancing with your eyes closed
  • Balancing with your arms at your sides
  • Balancing on an unstable surface (like a balance disc)

Try working this exercise into your daily routine. You can stand on one foot while you’re brushing your teeth, doing the dishes, or standing in line. 

* You don’t have to hoist your foot very high—gently bend your knee to lift one foot off the ground (even a few inches up is fine). 

5) Standing Heel Lifts

Standing heel lifts are an excellent exercise for improving your balance and strengthening the front of your lower leg. This exercise can help prevent tripping and leg pain.

To perform standing heel lifts, follow these steps:

  1. Stand on a flat surface with your feet shoulder-width apart
  2. Use a chair, table, or wall for extra support (if needed)
  3. Lift your heels off the floor so you’re standing on the balls of your feet 
  4. Hold this position for 5 – 10 seconds 
  5. Slowly lower your heels to the floor*
  6. Repeat as needed

We recommend doing 2 – 3 sets of this exercise with 10 lifts per set. As you get more comfortable with this exercise, you can create resistance by holding free weights or a medicine ball. You can do this exercise every day.

* Controlling your movement is an important part of strengthening your leg muscles.

6) Toe-Heel Walks

You can do toe-heel walks with or without shoes on (whichever way is most comfortable). This exercise helps improve your ankle mobility and strengthens your entire foot. 

To perform toe-heel walks, follow these steps:

  1. Find a space where you can walk approximately 30 feet one way
  2. Start on the balls of your feet & walk the 30 feet one way
  3. Turn around & walk back the same length on your heels 
  4. Repeat as needed

We recommend doing this exercise 3 – 5 times per day, but you can always do more. You can easily incorporate this into your daily life—try walking to the kitchen or the bathroom on your toes or heels!

7) Lunges

Lunges are an awesome exercise to strengthen not only your feet and ankles, but your legs and lower back, too. Basically, any type of lunge is great for your flexibility, mobility, and balance, but we recommend starting with a simple stationary lunge. 

To perform a stationary lunge, follow these steps:

  1. Start with one foot in front of the other, toes facing forward
  2. Keep your back straight 
  3. Put your hands on your hips or your arms straight out to the side
  4. Slowly bend your back knee to it almost touches the floor
  5. Your front knee should be at approximately a 90° angle with your shin
  6. Push yourself back up
  7. Repeat as needed

As you get more comfortable with a stationary lunge, you can try other kinds of lunges. We recommend adding this exercise to your routine at least once a week and doing 2 sets of 10 repetitions per side. 

8) Butt Squeezes

If you experience leg or ankle swelling, butt squeezes can really help. Butt squeezes also help strengthen your lower back, which is integral to balance and mobility. 

To perform a butt squeeze, follow these simple steps:

  1. Find a comfortable position to sit or lie down 
  2. Tighten your glutes*
  3. Hold this “squeeze” for 10 – 15 seconds
  4. Repeat as needed 

When you squeeze your glutes, it should feel like you’re trying to pick something up with your butt cheeks. Imagine you’re pulling your glutes into your pelvis.

You can do butt squeezes almost anywhere; while you’re eating, laying in bed, sitting in the car, or taking a bath. We recommend doing 10 butt squeezes in a row every day to help improve your balance.  

9) Toe Extensions

Toe extensions can be an effective way to prevent and treat plantar fasciitis. Plantar fasciitis is a condition that causes inflammation in the tissue that connects the foot to the heel and can make walking and raising your toes very uncomfortable.

Toe extensions can also help strengthen the foot, improve flexibility, and prevent foot pain in the long run. 

To perform a toe extension, follow these steps:

  1. Sit up straight in a comfortable chair with your feet flat on the floor
  2. Place your left foot on your right thigh 
  3. Gently pull the toes on your left foot up & back toward your left ankle
  4. Hold this for 10 – 15 seconds 
  5. Switch sides & repeat as needed

While stretching, you can massage the arch of your foot to help release any tension. You should feel the stretch through the bottom of your foot and up to your calf muscles. Try to incorporate this stretch into your evening routine—especially after days when you were walking a lot. 

10) Sand Walking

You don’t need to live on the coast to go walking in the sand. Walking the sand is a great way to strengthen your foot and back muscles, stimulate your core, and improve your balance and mobility. 

You can do this exercise on a beach, at a park, or even on a volleyball court. Wherever you can find sand, you can do a sand walking exercise. 

To perform sand walking, follow these simple steps:

  1. Remove your shoes & socks 
  2. Walk on the sand as long as possible

Don’t strain yourself—walking on sand should feel more challenging than walking on pavement or grass, but it shouldn’t be painful. With time, you can increase the distance of your walks. Try doing this to promote mobility in your entire lower body whenever you can.  

Health & Safety Tips

It’s important to keep your feet strong and healthy. Along with these exercises, follow these tips to promote foot and ankle health:

  • Always warm up before exercising (stretching is important)
  • Wear comfortable, supportive shoes every day
  • Replace worn-out shoes as necessary
  • Don’t run on uneven surfaces or uphill

Most importantly, always listen to your body. Your exercises and stretches might feel uncomfortable, but they should never be painful. If an activity is causing you pain, stop immediately. If you experience an injury of any kind, it’s important to see your physician. 

Exercise Daily with Ease

Many assisted living communities offer daily fitness and exercise programs for older adults. If you struggle to exercise daily (like most of us!), these programs can be very helpful in promoting an active, healthy lifestyle.

Learn more about our community in Branchville today and contact us to see how we can enrich your life. 

Written by bentley

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