November 4, 2005

Exercise helps elderly cut long-term risk of falls

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Research has shown that
starting an exercise program can lower an elderly woman's risk
of falling, and a new study suggests the benefit can be

Researchers found that among 98 elderly women who took part
in a 6-month exercise program, the risk of suffering a fall was
still reduced one year after the program ended.

In an earlier study, the researchers had found that
supervised strength training and agility exercises cut the
women's risk of falls by 47 percent to 57 percent. All of the
women, who were between the ages of 75 and 85, had low bone
mass or osteoporosis.

Falls are a major cause of disability among the elderly,
and those with the brittle-bone disease osteoporosis are at
particular risk of sustaining a bone fracture.

The new findings, published in the Journal of the American
Geriatrics Society, suggest that exercise can help prevent
falls over the long term.

One year after the exercise regimen ended, women who had
done strength training -- lifting light weights and doing
exercises like squats and lunges -- were still 43 percent less
likely to fall than they were at the study's outset.

Similarly, women who had performed agility exercises still
had a 40-percent lower risk of falling. Agility training
involved games, dance and obstacle courses aimed at improving
balance, coordination and reaction times.

A third exercise group, which had focused on stretching
exercises, had a 37-percent lower risk of falls in the long
term -- which was actually an improvement over their results at
the end of the exercise program.

It's not clear why their fall risk continued to improve,
while that of the other two groups worsened slightly, according
to the researchers, led by Dr. Teresa Y. L. Liu-Ambrose of the
University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada.

All of the women were encouraged to keep exercising after
the original study ended, and those in the stretching group
might have taken up other forms of exercise that are more
effective at preventing falls, the researchers speculate.

Many women in the strength and agility groups said that it
was hard for them to find supervised programs that were as
challenging as the study regimens were. This, the researchers
note, could explain why their long-range fall risk was slightly
higher than it was at the end of their exercise programs.

In general, they point out, research has shown that muscle
strengthening, balance training and exercises that focus on
balance and agility, like tai chi, are most effective at
reducing older adults' fall risk.

SOURCE: Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, October