As we age, our balance and lower-body strength often decline, increasing our chance of falls. Many older people also have weakened bones, which raises their risk of a broken hip and other serious injuries if they fall.
Previous studies show that doing exercises to improve balance, movement, and strength can reduce the risk of falls among older people. Some experts have suggested that these exercises might also reduce the chance of injury if someone does fall. For example, the exercises might improve people’s reflexes, allowing them to quickly extend an arm or grab something to break a fall. Also, better muscle tone might help lessen the impact of falls on the body.
To explore this, researchers gathered information from 17 studies looking at exercises to prevent falls, focusing on what happened to people if they did have a fall. The studies included 4,305 people with an average age of 76. The people were randomly split into two groups. In one, people did exercises to prevent falls. This usually meant doing exercises to improve their strength, their balance, how they walked, and how they did daily activities. People in the second group did not do these exercises, although some did other things, such as attending a general health class.
What does the new study say?
People in the exercise group were less likely to fall, and less likely to be injured if they fell, compared with those not doing the exercises. And if they were injured, their injuries were less likely to be severe.
In particular, people who did the exercises were 37 percent less likely to have any injury if they fell. They were also 30 percent less likely to have injuries requiring medical care, 43 percent less likely to have a severe injury (such as a head injury, a cut needing stitches, or a broken hip), and 61 percent less likely to have any type of broken bone.
How reliable is the research?
These findings should be fairly reliable. The review was carefully done and only looked at randomised controlled trials, which are the best type of study for finding out the effects of a treatment.
However, there were many differences in how the studies were done, including how the exercises were provided, and how the researchers recorded people’s injuries. These differences increase the chance of error when combining the studies’ results, which could have affected the review’s findings.
It’s also worth noting that all of the studies looked only at older people who were living independently in the community. So we don’t know whether these findings also apply to people living in nursing homes and other care facilities.
What does this mean for me?
If you are older, these findings suggest that exercises to prevent falls may be more helpful than previously thought. Not only are these exercises likely to lower your risk of falls, but they may also help protect you from injury if you do fall. If you are interested in these types of exercises, you might talk to your doctor about what programmes are available in your area.