Exercise in the prevention of falls in older people: a systematic literature review examining the rationale and the evidence

Sports Med. 2001;31(6):427-38. doi: 10.2165/00007256-200131060-00003.


Falls are a major source of death and injury in elderly people. For example, they cause 90% of hip fractures and the current cost of hip fractures in the US is estimated to be about 10 billion dollars. Age-related changes in the physiological systems (somatosensory, vestibular and visual) which contribute to the maintenance of balance are well documented in older adults. These changes coupled with age-related changes in muscle and bone are likely to contribute to an increased risk of falls in this population. The integrated rehabilitation-based model of fall risk factors reveals multiple sites for interventions that may reverse fall risk factors. Regular exercise may be one way of preventing falls and fall-related fractures. The evidence for this contention comes from a variety of sources. On the basis of 9 randomised controlled studies conducted since 1996, exercise appears to be a useful tool in fall prevention in older adults, significantly reducing the incidence of falls compared with control groups. However, current limitations such as inconsistencies in the measurement of key dependent and independent variables do not, at present, permit a meta-analysis of intervention trials. Further investigation, using trials designed with the current limitations in mind, is necessary to establish the optimum exercise programme to maximise fall prevention in older adults.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Accidental Falls / prevention & control*
  • Accidental Falls / statistics & numerical data
  • Aged / physiology*
  • Aged, 80 and over / statistics & numerical data
  • Aging / physiology
  • Exercise*
  • Frail Elderly
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Physical Education and Training / methods
  • Risk Factors