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Falling and injuries can be a large concern for anyone over 60 years old. In this article, we look at how regular exercise can help prevent these falls and injuries and lead to a better quality of life throughout old age.

Trips and Falls: One of the Biggest Threats to Older Individuals

Falls and their associated injuries, such as hip fractures, tendon or ligament tears, or even simple muscle sprains, are a huge problem for people over the age of 50 and account for a substantial amount of their hospital visits each year.

This becomes an even bigger problem when considering that the recovery capacity of elderly individuals is naturally lower than their younger counterparts, and that their adherence to rehabilitation programs is also usually much lower.

This, in turn, usually leads to a dramatic loss in quality of life, functional capabilities and independence, which can have serious adverse effects on mood and mental health, increasing risk of depression and anxiety.

Considering all of the above points, there is a very strong case to be made that prevention is far better than the cure. In fact, this has even been shown in research, with elderly individuals who suffer less falls and hospitalizations usually leading both happier and healthier lives, with a far greater functional capacity and daily activity level.

So, what is the best way to prevent falls?

Exercise and Falls

Exercise and it's ability to improve functional capacity has been studied nearly as long as exercise has existed. However, the ability of exercise to help reduce the occurrence of falls in the elderly has begun to receive more attention over the last two decades.

Regular exercise has been shown to reduce the amount of falls in older people by anywhere from 15% to 20%.

This has, in turn, been shown to improve quality of life and health outcomes, which also improve independently of fall rate, over the long term.

The primary reasons for this seem to lie in the increased strength, endurance and, perhaps most importantly, proprioception, which is the scientific name given to an individual’s awareness of their body and it's movements. In fact, there’s been a direct relationship drawn in research between muscle weakness and both single and recurring falls.

In addition to helping prevent the amount of falls an elderly person may experience, there is also evidence that exercise will help reduce the severity of the fall and reduce the amount of 'injurious’ falls, or falls that are serious enough to cause injuries like fractures, tears or sprains.

This benefit most likely stems from an increase in muscle power and reaction time from exercise, which again has been shown to decrease with age and exponentially increase fall risk. As well as the increase in power and reaction, improved proprioception, as mentioned above, also may play a role.

So, we know that exercise can help prevent falling. But is there any particular type of exercise that is superior to others in achieving these benefits?

Continue reading after recommendations

  • 1. Galvao, D. A., & Taaffe, D. R. (2005). Resistance Exercise Dosage in Older Adults: Single‐Versus Multiset Effects on Physical Performance and Body Composition. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 53(12), 2090-2097.
  • 2. Hauer, K., Rost, B., Rütschle, K., Opitz, H., Specht, N., Bärtsch, P., ... & Schlierf, G. (2001). Exercise training for rehabilitation and secondary prevention of falls in geriatric patients with a history of injurious falls. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 49(1), 10-20.
  • 3. Latham, N. K., Bennett, D. A., Stretton, C. M., & Anderson, C. S. (2004). Systematic review of progressive resistance strength training in older adults.The Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences, 59(1), M48-M61.
  • 4. Liu‐Ambrose, T., Khan, K. M., Eng, J. J., Janssen, P. A., Lord, S. R., & Mckay, H. A. (2004). Resistance and agility training reduce fall risk in women aged 75 to 85 with low bone mass: A 6‐month randomized, controlled trial. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 52(5), 657-665.
  • 5. Moreland, J. D., Richardson, J. A., Goldsmith, C. H., & Clase, C. M. (2004). Muscle weakness and falls in older adults: a systematic review and meta‐analysis. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 52(7), 1121-1129.
  • 6. Orr, R., Raymond, J., & Singh, M. F. (2008). Efficacy of progressive resistance training on balance performance in older adults. Sports Medicine,38(4), 317-343.
  • 7. Sherrington, C., Tiedemann, A., Fairhall, N., Close, J. C., & Lord, S. R. (2011). Exercise to prevent falls in older adults: an updated meta-analysis and best practice recommendations. New South Wales public health bulletin,22(4), 78-83.
  • 8. Sherrington, C., Whitney, J. C., Lord, S. R., Herbert, R. D., Cumming, R. G., & Close, J. C. (2008). Effective exercise for the prevention of falls: a systematic review and meta‐analysis. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 56(12), 2234-2243.
  • Photo courtesy of Braiu: www.flickr.com/photos/braiu_74/23260390571/
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