Here are five exercises to strengthen the commonly weak zones that support walking—ankles, hips, and abs. For best results, do these exercises at least every other day.
Targets ankles and shins.
Sitting with your feet flat on the floor, simply tap your feet--either together or one at a time--keeping your heels on the floor. Repeat 50 times with each foot.
Side-Lying Leg Raise
Lie on your left side, legs straight and together, with your left arm supporting your head. (If you feel unsteady, bend your bottom leg at the knee 15 to 20 degrees to help support your body.) Keeping your right foot flexed and your body straight, slowly lift your right leg to about shoulder height, and then slowly lower. Repeat 10 times on each side. That's one set.
3 sets, 10 reps each leg
Lie on your back, knees bent, feet flat and about hip-width apart, and arms at your sides. Inhale, then slowly exhale, lowering your ribs and pressing your back to the floor. Release on the inhale. Repeat 10 to 15 times. Don't use your butt or feet to help.
1 set, 10-15 reps
Alternate Leg Raise
Targets inner thighs.
Lie on your right side, slightly back on your butt. Bend your left leg and place it behind your right leg so that your left foot is flat on the floor and your right leg is straight. Support your head with your right arm. Slowly lift your right leg about 3 to 5 inches and then lower. Repeat 10 times on each side. That's one set. Gradually work up to 12-inch leg lifts.
3 sets, 10 reps each leg
Alternating Knee Raise
Targets hips and abs.
Start in the same position as the belly press (above), with your feet slightly more than hip-width apart. Inhale and bring your left knee toward your left shoulder, as far as is comfortable. Exhale and press your back to the floor as you lower your leg. Repeat 15 times with each leg.
1 set, 15 reps each leg
Flexibility is as important as strength for a balanced gait and fluid movement, says coach Sherry Brourman, PT. "Many of us have a tight lower back and hip flexors from lots of sitting, and tight quadriceps [front thigh muscles] and calves." These four stretches can help loosen you up. Hold each stretch for a slow count of 10, and repeat three times. Aim to stretch every day.
Lie facedown with your hands under your shoulders. Push up with your arms, raising your head and chest off the floor, while keeping your hips down. Only go as far as is comfortable.
Targets lower back.
Sitting on the edge of a chair, bend at the waist, dropping your head and chest to your legs while reaching your hands toward your ankles. Keep your belly tight. Don't do this exercise if you have radiating leg pain.
Targets front of thighs and hips.
Rest your left hand on a table or chair for support. Bend your right knee, bringing your right foot toward your butt. Hold your foot with your right hand. Aim your bent knee toward the floor. Repeat with your left leg.
Targets lower legs.
Stand about a foot away from a wall and place both hands on it. Step back about 1 to 2 feet with your left foot so that your right knee is bent and your left leg is straight. Keep your toes pointed straight ahead. Repeat with the right leg.
Add Some Inches
To stay balanced as you walk, imagine growing taller, as though a string is pulling you up and slightly forward from the top of your head, with your weight balanced on the balls of your feet. Keep your belly slightly tucked. With each step, strike the ground with the center of your heel, roll onto the ball of your foot, and push off with your toes.