Worried about falling? Do more exercise

Falls in seniors are linked to significantly higher rates of disability, brain damage, chronic and debilitating pain, and of course, death, so that it’s commonly repeated that 20-33 % of elderly who break a hip – and the main way to break a hip is to fall, of course – will die within 6 months as a direct consequence of that fracture.

So as we age, we should be very concerned with preventing falls and fractures, starting with doing all we can to maintain bone health (bones begin to deteriorate during the 3rd decade of life – a Yikes! bit of info), work on maintaining a decent sense of balance – like all senses, sense of balance also deteriorates with age – and then doing all we can to prevent falling as we hit the really problematic years for damage from falls.

And lest you think falls are a worry only for the very very old, you should know that the the risk of falling goes upward in a straight line from early adulthood on, and by middle age, over 25 % of women will suffer a serious fall each year, a rate that goes steadily upwards from then on.

So, although you might at first think that being more active would raise your risk of falling – after all, if you sit, you are more unlikely to fall than if you are up and about – most studies conclude that exercise is actually an excellent fall-preventing strategy – it builds bone strength and muscle (the more muscular strength you have, the better you are able to stop a fall and better able to get over one), likely helps with balance, and exercise is great for confidence, which is actually essential for fall prevention.

So no surprise, then, that according to a meta-analysis study published online in JAMA Intern Med in December, “a program of moderate-intensity exercise for 1 year or longer among the elderly (average age in this study was 73) was associated with a significant decrease in the risk for falls and falls leading to injury.

So in the editorial accompanying this study, the authors conclude that “we have sufficient, robust, and consistent evidence that exercise interventions prevent adverse events in older people, including falls, injurious falls, fractures, and mobility disability.”

But a word of caution if, after reading this, you’ve miraculously suddenly been convinced to start an exercise regime, my usual warning applies: Don’t rush into it and over-do it.

Just remember this wonderful mantra to live by: Start low, go slow.