Background: Long-term evidence from randomized trials of the effectiveness of exercise in preventing disability and fall-related fractures in elderly people has been lacking.
Methods: We performed extended follow-up of 160 women (aged 70-73 years at baseline) with osteopenia in a population-based, randomized, controlled exercise trial. The trial was conducted from April 1 through April 30, 2001. Follow-up was conducted from May 1, 2001, through December 31, 2005. Mean total time in observation was 7.1 years. Primary outcome measures were femoral neck bone mineral density, postural sway, and leg strength. Secondary outcome measures were hospital-treated fractures and functional ability measures. Outcomes were measured annually using masked assessors.
Results: There was a significant difference between groups in favor of exercise in terms of postural sway (group × time interaction, P = .005), walking speed (group × time interaction, P < .001), and Frenchay Activities Index score (group x time interaction, P = .001). The bone mineral density decreased similarly across time in both groups. The incidence rate of fractures during the total follow-up among women in the exercise group vs women in the control group was 0.05 vs 0.08 per 1000 person-years (Poisson incidence rate ratio, 0.68; 95% confidence interval, 0.34-1.32). There were no hip fractures in the exercise group, whereas 5 hip fractures occurred in the control group. One woman in the exercise group and 8 women in the control group died (Poisson incidence rate ratio, 0.11; 95% confidence interval, 0.01-0.85).
Conclusion: 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.
Trial registration: clinicaltrials.gov Identifier: NCT00655577.