A regular exercise program could be one way to cut the risk of serious injuries from falls in older men.

Accidental falls are a major cause of injury and hospitalisation in older people. For those over 70, falls are one of the leading causes of fatal and non-fatal injuries.

Fall prevention strategies often take into consideration the strength and mobility of a person. With ageing, a decrease in balance and lower body muscle mass is commonplace. These factors combine to increase falls risk dramatically.

Several small-scale and shorter-term studies have shown that a structured exercise program can reduce falls risk but it’s unclear if this translates to less serious injuries.

Now researchers have carried out a much larger and longer-term controlled study to see if structured exercise can lead to less serious fall injuries. Over 1600 inactive older adults aged 70 to 89 years took part in the multi-centre study.

Each person was randomly assigned to either a long-term, moderate exercise regimen or to a health education program (the control group). The physical activity program included twice-weekly sessions at a centre and 3 – 4 sessions each week at home.

The focus of the program included aerobic fitness, strength, flexibility and balance training. Follow up of participants was every six months for up to 42 months.

Over a median of 2.6 years, serious fall injuries were experienced by 9.2% of people in the exercise program and 10.3% of people in the health education program. The small difference between groups was not considered statistically significant.

Looking at gender differences though, the physical activity program was more effective in reducing the rate of serious fall injuries in men than in women.

Men in the exercise group had a 38% lower risk of serious fall injuries, a 53% lower risk of fall-related fractures, and a 59% lower rate of fall injuries requiring hospitalisation.

One likely reason for the greater benefit seen in men is that they increased their physical activity levels more than the women and also had greater improvements in gait, balance and muscle strength.

Despite the trial being one of the largest and longest of its kind, the way it was designed meant that it could only have reasonably detected very large differences in serious fall injuries between the groups.

Implications

The findings from this trial point in the right direction – that engaging in regular moderate exercise can lead to a reduction in serious falls injuries.

Last Reviewed: 06/09/2019

© Norman Swan Medical Communications.



References

Gill TM et al. Effect of structured physical activity on prevention of serious fall injuries in adults aged 70-89: randomized clinical trial (LIFE Study). BMJ Epub online 3 Feb, 2016 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.i245.