Remaining physically fit and sticking to a regular exercise routine
could lower your risk of taking a tumble, a new research study found.
About 19,000 people die each year in the United States from falls and
about 8 million undergo treatment in emergency rooms. Although falls are the
leading cause of injuries among people age 65 and older, young people fall down
just as much as seniors, according to the study.
“We were not surprised that people 65 years and older were no more
likely to report falling than younger people, given that younger people are
more likely to engage in more risky activities, such as standing on ladders,
running and playing sports,” lead author Kristin Mertz, MD at the
epidemiology department at the University of Pittsburgh, said in a news
Mertz and her colleagues wanted to learn what people are doing when they
fall and whether fitness has a part in the likelihood of falling.
The researchers used data from participants in the Aerobics Center
Longitudinal Study from 1970 to 1989 and who responded to questions about falls
during a follow-up survey in 1990.
The survey asked whether the participants had fallen in the past 12
months and, if so, what they were doing when they fell. Were they, for
instance, walking, participating in a sport, exercising or getting out of a
bathtub? Participants answered questions about how many minutes each week they
did aerobic exercise and they took a treadmill test as a measure of fitness.
Of the 10,615 participants between the ages of 20 and 87 years, 2,110
(or 20%) reported falling in the last year. Of those who fell, 15% fell while
walking. Women were 2.8 times as likely as men to fall while walking, but
fitness levels made a difference in men falling while it did not for women. The
study found men with low fitness levels were 2.2 times more apt to fall while
walking than were highly fit men.
“We were surprised to find that fitness and physical activity seem
to have a stronger relationship with walking-related falls in men compared with
women,” Mertz said.
The researchers concluded that individuals need about 2 hours of regular
exercise a week to lower the risk of falling. Those who exercised less – or not
at all – did not have the same protection.
Debbie Rose, co-director at the Fall Prevention Center of Excellence at
California State University at Fullerton, agreed.
“Of all the fall prevention strategies that have been studied over
the last two decades, well-designed exercise programs produce the best results,
both in terms of lowering fall risk and fall incidence rates,” she said.
“Physical activities designed to improve aerobic endurance should be
included in any activity program aimed at reducing fall risk.”