Exercises that boost strength and agility may help elderly women with brittle bones lessen their odds of falling, a new study suggests.
Canadian researchers found that both strength training and agility activities lowered fall risk among women 75 to 85 years old, all of whom had reduced bone mass or full-blown osteoporosis.
Falls are a major cause of disability among the elderly, and those with osteoporosis are at particular risk of falling and sustaining a bone fracture.
The new findings are important, according to study co-author Dr. Karim M. Khan, because although older adults are generally encouraged to stay active, people with osteoporosis may be advised to avoid exercise because of safety concerns.
But this study, Khan told Reuters Health, shows that older adults with brittle bones should be active, under the proper supervision.
“This study showed very important gains in health, and the safety was excellent,” said Khan, who is from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. He and his colleagues report their findings in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
For the study, 98 women were randomly assigned to perform one of three types of exercise: resistance training, agility training or stretching exercises.
Those in the resistance-training group focused on building strength through lifting light weights and doing exercises such as squats and lunges. The agility training used games, dance and obstacle courses to try to improve the women’s balance, coordination and reaction times.
Women in all three groups took 50-minute exercise classes twice a week at a community center.
After six months, those in the strength-training and agility-training groups showed a greater drop in fall risk compared with women in the stretching group. Fall risk, which was estimated with a standard battery of tests, declined by about 57 percent with strength training and 47 percent with agility training, the researchers report. That compares with 20 percent in the stretching group.
According to Khan and his colleagues, much of the benefit from both types of training had to do with “postural stability.” This is gauged in tests that measure how much the body sways when a person is standing still. After six months, women in the strength and agility groups were steadier on their feet than at the study’s start.
The findings also suggest that strength training may be a particularly good way for elderly adults with osteoporosis to exercise. While participants found the agility program enjoyable, the researchers note, it carried a higher risk of falls, and it may be a less feasible type of activity compared with strength training.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said more older adults should be doing strength-building exercises to counter the loss of muscle and bone mass that comes with aging. In a recent national survey, the CDC found that only about 11 percent of Americans age 65 and up regularly perform any type of strength training.
SOURCE: Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, May 2004.
Revision date: July 7, 2011
Last revised: by Andrew G. Epstein, M.D.