Introduction: Physical activity is known to prevent falls; however, use of widely available exercise programs for older adults, including EnhanceFitness and Silver Sneakers, has not been examined in relation to effects on falls among program participants. We aimed to determine whether participation in EnhanceFitness or Silver Sneakers is associated with a reduced risk of falls resulting in medical care.
Methods: A retrospective cohort study examined a demographically representative sample from a Washington State integrated health system. Health plan members aged 65 or older, including 2,095 EnhanceFitness users, 13,576 Silver Sneakers users, and 55,127 nonusers from 2005 through 2011, were classified as consistent users (used a program ≥2 times in all years they were enrolled in the health plan during the study period); intermittent users (used a program ≥2 times in 1 or more years enrolled but not all years), or nonusers of EnhanceFitness or Silver Sneakers. The main outcome was measured as time-to-first-fall requiring inpatient or out-of-hospital medical treatment based on the International Classification of Diseases, 9th Revision, Clinical Modification, Sixth Edition and E-codes.
Results: In fully adjusted Cox proportional hazards models, consistent (hazard ratio [HR], 0.74; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.63-0.88) and intermittent (HR, 0.87; 95% CI, 0.8-0.94) EnhanceFitness participation were both associated with a reduced risk of falls resulting in medical care. Intermittent Silver Sneakers participation showed a reduced risk (HR, 0.93; 95% CI, 0.90-0.97).
Conclusion: Participation in widely available community-based exercise programs geared toward older adults (but not specific to fall prevention) reduced the risk of medical falls. Structured programs that include balance and strength exercise, as EnhanceFitness does, may be effective in reducing fall risk.