New study shows how to stay on your feet in old age

Regular weekly exercise could reduce the risk of older people suffering falls by almost 40 percent, new analysis by The George Institute for Global Health has revealed.

A review of 88 trials involving close to 20,000 people revealed an exercise program of more than three hours a week focusing on improving balance produced the best results.

One in three Australians over the age of 65 fall each year leading to long term disability, reduced mobility, poor quality of life, aged care admission and even death. 

Lead author Cathie Sherrington, of The George Institute for Global Health, said: “We know that regular exercise can prevent falls which are a major disease burden in Australia and incredibly debilitating. But just six percent of Australians are taking part in the types of routines we know can prevent falls.

“We need to better promote how important exercise is in older life, and that even some very simple balancing exercises could make all the difference.”

The review published in the British Medical Journal found:

  • Overall exercise reduced the rate of falls in older people by 21 percent
  • Greater effects were seen from exercise programmes that challenged balance and involved more than three hours/ week of exercise.
  • Exercise also had a fall prevention effect in people with Parkinson’s disease

The following exercises are recommended by The George Institute to anyone over the age of 65 (it’s important to make sure you feel steady and safe throughout):

  • Reduce the base of support (e.g. standing with two legs close together, standing with one foot directly in front of the other, standing on one leg)
  • Move the centre of gravity and control body position whilst standing (e.g. reaching, transferring body weight from one leg to another, stepping up onto a higher surface)
  • Stand without using the arms for support, or if this is not possible then aim to reduce reliance on the upper limbs (e.g. hold onto a surface with one hand rather than two, or one finger instead of the whole hand)

Professor Sherrington said: “Three hours a week is just 25 minutes of activity a day. All of us should be aiming for at least this amount of exercise, if not more, if we are to stay fit and healthy in old age.”

Read the full study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.