Harvard Women's Health Watch

Exercise prevents serious injuries in women who fall

A randomized controlled trial of Finnish women over 70 has demonstrated that regular exercise can significantly reduce the risk of serious injury from a fall. Researchers from Tampere University studied 370 women who had fallen during the previous year. They were randomly divided into two groups. One group of 187 participated in classes in which they learned exercises to increase strength, balance, and agility. They attended exercise class twice a week for a year and once a week the next year. They exercised at home on the days they weren't in class. The women in the control group continued their normal routines. All the women kept daily diaries in which they noted whether they had fallen, and if so, the type of injury they sustained and whether they required medical attention. They mailed their diaries to the researchers every month.

At the end of the period, the number of falls was about the same in both groups: 140 in the exercise group and 141 in the control group. The consequences of those falls, though, differed noticeably between the groups: women in the exercise group had 20 falls requiring medical attention, including eight fractures and six head injuries. That compared with 39 such falls in the control group, involving 14 fractures and 12 head injuries.

These results, published online June 26, 2015, by the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, add to growing evidence that regular exercise can reduce the risk of being badly hurt in a fall. And they provide yet another reason to get moving.

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