Exercise programs reduced falls that caused injuries by 37%, falls leading to serious injuries by 43%, and broken bones by 61%"
Published on the Harvard Health Publishing Website by Howard LeWine, M.D. on Oct. 31, 2013
Most people take balance for granted. They navigate without thinking, effort, or fear. For millions of others, though, poor balance is a problem. Some struggle with long-term dizziness or imbalance. Others suffer balance-related falls and injuries. A new study concludes that exercise can reduce not only the odds of falling but the odds of sustaining fall-related injuries.
French researchers analyzed the results of 17 trials that tested the effect of fall-prevention exercises on seniors’ risk of falls and fall-related injuries. Overall, exercise programs reduced falls that caused injuries by 37%, falls leading to serious injuries by 43%, and broken bones by 61%. The report was published online in the BMJ.
Some of the exercise programs were specifically aimed at improving balance. Others were general exercise programs. Two focused on tai chi.
Balance and injuryWhen a toddler or child falls, he or she usually shakes it off and keeps moving. But when an older adult falls, there are often consequences. Broken bones limit mobility. They can also lead to a downward health spiral. Each year, thousands of older Americans die as a result of breaking a hip. Broken bones and head injuries can knock confidence, engender a fear of falling, and undermine independence.
We’ve known for some time that structured exercise with balance training helps reduce falls, and assumed that such programs would also help prevent fall-related injuries. The BMJ report supports that assumption.
Although balance training is the mainstay of fall prevention programs, any exercise that improves endurance, muscle strength and flexibility can help prevent falls and related injuries.
Beyond better balance, the other benefits of multi-component exercise programs include:
Here’s one from Better Balance, a Special Health Report from HarvardMedicalSchool:
If this exercise is too hard, hold onto a chair or counter for support. If it’s too easy, hold the leg lift for 60 seconds, or do it with your eyes closed.
Efforts to prevent falls are best started early in life rather than late in life. Even so, you are never too old or too frail to exercise. There are always routines that can fit your needs.