How keeping active in older age can prevent men from heading for a fall


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Exercise inevitably gets a little harder to face as we get older, but that just means it's all the more important to stay focused and remain active as the years go by. As well as holding mind and body together, keeping active can help us in unexpected ways, too. Studies at Yale now suggest that older men who participate in regular physical activity experience significantly fewer serious fall injuries than those who do not.


It's my life

The researchers suggest that even moderate exercise can help older men avoid the serious falls that are the leading cause of injury in people age 70 and older. Around a third of older people experience falls and 10% suffer a serious injury. According to the National Council on Aging (NCOA), "falls are the leading cause of fatal injury and the most common cause of nonfatal trauma-related hospital admissions among older adults" resulting in 2.5 million injuries every year that require ER treatment.

While it's known that exercise can help reduce the number of falls, there hasn't been much to suggest that physical activity prevents fall injuries. The Lifestyle Interventions and Independence for Elders (LIFE) study looked the way ongoing physical activity can benefit older people. It looked at 1,635 normally sedentary people aged between 70 and 89 and compared the effects of long-term, moderate exercise program with health education.


Life's what you make it

The physical activity program included moderate walking, as well as flexibility, strength, and balance training exercises. Although physical activity did not significantly reduce the risk of a serious fall injury, relative to health education, the team did see notable gender difference in their results. Overall, the likelihood of a serious fall injury was reduced by 38% in men but was not reduced in women. There was a 53% reduced number of fall-related fractures in the men included in the physical activity group with 59% fewer fall injuries needing hospitalization.

The research team saw how the men participating in the study increased their physical activity to a greater extent than the women. The men also made bigger improvements in their gait, balance and muscle strength in response to the physical activity program. "The physical activity program was more effective in reducing the rate of serious fall injuries in men than in women," confirms Dr. Thomas M. Gill, a professor of geriatrics involved with the study.


Happiness is easy

The results, the researchers say, suggest that moderate exercise may be highly beneficial in preventing falls in older men. "The results from the current study support continued evaluation of the physical activity program for possible widespread implementation in the community," Gill says. The LIFE study results — published online in the BMJ — are part of the largest and longest trial of physical activity in older people, the researchers say.

We're always big advocates of keeping things moving. Even moderate exercise can help in later life and, as we age, exercise can do a lot of good from helping the heart, lungs and brain to warding off diabetes, cancer, depression, dementia and even bone loss. Another recent study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, suggests that for those over 60, a little moderate to vigorous physical activity every week — even when it's below the recommended amount — still seems to reduce the risks posed by inactivity. Remember talk to your doctor before starting on any new physical fitness regime to see what's right for you.