Bone FractureElderlyExerciseTai Chi

Long-term benefits of exercise on fall prevention in the elderly

Home-based exercises are effective, according to researchers in Finland.

First, the details.

  • 160 elderly women with osteopenia (lower than normal bone mineral density) were randomly assigned to a treatment group and followed for 7years.
    • The exercise group attended supervised balance, leg strength, and impact training sessions once a week for 6 months.
    • An observation control group.
  • The main outcomes measured included femoral neck bone mineral density, postural sway, and leg strength.
    • Postural sway during quiet standing reflects the interplay between destabilizing forces acting on the body and the ability to counter them.
  • Other outcomes included hospital-treated fractures and functional ability.
  • The evaluators were not aware of the treatments — single blind.

And, the results.

  • There were significant differences between groups in favor of exercise in terms of postural sway, walking speed, and Frenchay Activities Index score.
  • Bone mineral density decreased similarly in both groups.
  • The rate of fractures was significantly less in the exercise group vs control group.
  • There were no hip fractures in the exercise group, but 5 hip fractures occurred in the control group.
  • One woman in the exercise group and 8 women in the control group died.

The bottom line?

The authors concluded, “Mainly home-based exercises followed by voluntary home training seem to have a long-term effect on balance and gait and may even protect high-risk elderly women from hip fractures.”

At least among seniors living at home, exercise has long-term benefits that may delay that relentless downward spiral that accompanies fractures and the loss of independent living.

Also, exercise is something everybody understands. It’s difficult enough to get people to start an activity that they never previously thought much about doing. Trying to teach them “exotic” activities such as tai chi (here and here) might be effective, but it adds another layer of complexity to the process.

10/1/10 17:06 JR

Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at, a complementary and alternative medicine website.