Background: Decreased fitness of the lower extremities is a potentially modifiable fall risk factor. This study aimed to compare two exercise programs--square-stepping exercise (SSE), which is a low-cost indoor program, and walking--for improving the fitness of the lower extremities.
Methods: We randomly allocated 68 community-dwelling older adults (age 65-74 years) to either the SSE or walking group (W group). During the 12-week regimen, the SSE group participated in 70-minute exercise sessions conducted twice a week at a local health center, and the W group participated in outdoor supervised walking sessions conducted weekly. The W group was instructed to increase the number of daily steps. Prior to and after the program, we obtained information on 11 physical performance tests for known fall risk factors and 3 self-reported scales. The fall incidence was followed-up for 8 months.
Results: At 12 weeks postregimen, significant differences were observed between the two exercise groups with respect to leg power (1 item), balance (2 items), agility (2 items), reaction time (2 items), and a self-reported scale (1 item); the SSE group demonstrated a marked improvement in the above-mentioned items with Group x Time interactions. Significant time effects were observed in the tests involving chair stands, functional reach, and standing up from a lying-down position without Group x Time interactions. During the follow-up period, the fall rates per person-year in the SSE and W groups were 23.4% and 33.3%, respectively (p =.31).
Conclusion: Although further studies are required, SSE is apparently more effective than walking in reducing fall risk factors, and it appears that it may be recommended as a health promotion exercise in older adults.