Background: walking is the most popular form of exercise in older people but the impact of walking on falls is unclear. This study investigated the impact of a 48-week walking programme on falls in older people.
Methods: three hundred and eighty-six physically inactive people aged 65+ years living in the community were randomised into an intervention or control group. The intervention group received a self-paced, 48-week walking programme that involved three mailed printed manuals and telephone coaching. Coinciding with the walking programme manual control group participants received health information unrelated to falls. Monthly falls calendars were used to monitor falls (primary outcome) over 48 weeks. Secondary outcomes were self-reported quality of life, falls efficacy, exercise and walking levels. Mobility, leg strength and choice stepping reaction time were measured in a sub-sample (n = 178) of participants.
Results: there was no difference in fall rates between the intervention and control groups in the follow-up period (IRR = 0.88, 95% CI: 0.60-1.29). By the end of the study, intervention group participants spent significantly more time exercising in general, and specifically walking for exercise (median 1.69 versus 0.75 h/week, P < 0.001).
Conclusion: our finding that a walking programme is ineffective in preventing falls supports previous research and questions the suitability of recommending walking as a fall prevention strategy for older people. Walking, however, increases physical activity levels in previously inactive older people.
Keywords: accidental falls; older people; physical activity; walking.
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