Background: Among elderly persons, falls account for 87% of all fractures and are contributing factors in many nursing home admissions. This study evaluated the effect of an easily implemented, low-intensity exercise program on the incidence of falls and the time to first fall among a clinically defined population of elderly men and women.
Methods: This community-based, randomized trial compared the exercise intervention with a no-intervention control. The participants were 294 men and women, aged 60 years or older, who had either a hospital admission or bed rest for 2 days or more within the previous month. Exercise participants were scheduled to attend exercise sessions lasting 45 minutes, including warm-up and cool-down, 3 times a week for 8 weeks (24 sessions). Assessments included gait and balance measures, self-reported physical function, the number of medications being taking at baseline, participant age, sex, and history of falling. Falls were tracked for 1 year after each participant's baseline assessment.
Results: 29% of the study participants reported a fall during the study period. The effect of exercise in preventing falls varied significantly by baseline physical function level (p < or =.002). The risk for falls decreased for exercise participants with low baseline physical functioning (hazard ratio,.51) but increased for exercise participants with high baseline physical functioning (hazard ratio, 3.51).
Conclusions: This easily implemented, low-intensity exercise program appears to reduce the risk for falls among elderly men and women recovering from recent hospitalizations, bed rest, or both who have low levels of physical functioning.