Lower likelihood of falling at age 90+ is associated with daily exercise a quarter of a century earlier: The 90+ Study

Age Ageing. 2017 Nov 1;46(6):951-957. doi: 10.1093/ageing/afx039.


Objective: to explore the relationship between risk of falling at age 90+ and prior physical activity at age 60-70s.

Design: population-based cohort study (The 90+ Study).

Setting: California retirement community.

Participants: of 1596 cohort members, 1536 had both falls and prior activity data. Mean age = 94 years; 78% female; 99% Caucasian.

Methods: time spent in active physical activity was self-reported in 1980s; medical history, medication, assistive devices, residence type, and falls (outcome) was collected in 2000s. Activity/fall relationships were assessed using logistic regression.

Results: falls were reported by 52% of participants, recurrent falls by 32%, and severe injury by 21% of fallers. In univariate analyses risk of falling at age 90+ was significantly related to medical history (heart disease, TIA/stroke, arthritis, vision disease, depression, dementia), medication use (hypnotics, anti-psychotics, anti-depressants), use of assistive devices (cane, walker, wheelchair), residence type (living with relatives, sheltered living), and source of information (self-report vs informant). Risks of falling and recurrent falls at age 90+ were 35-45% lower in those reporting 30+ minutes/day of active physical activity at age 60-70s compared with no activity. The odds ratio of falling was 0.65 (95% CI = 0.44-0.97) for 30-45 minutes/day and 0.64 (0.44-0.94) for 1+ hour/day adjusting for age, sex, medical history (stroke/TIA, vision disease, depression), use of assistive devices, and source of information.

Conclusions and relevance: falls are extremely common among the oldest-old and a significant proportion lead to severe injury. This work is the first to show an association between exercise at age 60-70s and lower risk of falling at age 90+.

Keywords: Falls; cohort; exercise; older people; oldest-old; risk factors.

MeSH terms

  • Accidental Falls*
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging*
  • California
  • Exercise*
  • Female
  • Geriatric Assessment
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Odds Ratio
  • Prognosis
  • Prospective Studies
  • Protective Factors
  • Risk Factors
  • Self Report
  • Time Factors