Objective: To determine whether a 12-month program of regular exercise can improve balance, reaction time, neuromuscular control, and muscle strength and reduce the rate of falling in older women.
Design: A randomized, controlled trial of 12 months duration.
Setting: Conducted as part of the Randwick Falls and Fractures Study in Sydney, Australia.
Participants: One hundred ninety-seven women aged 60 to 85 years (mean age 71.6, SD = 5.4) who were randomly recruited from the community.
Outcome measures: Accidental falls, postural sway, reaction time, neuromuscular control, and lower limb muscle strength.
Main results: Exercise and control subjects were tested before, midway through, and at the end of the trial. At initial testing, exercisers and controls performed similarly in all tests and were well matched in relevant health and lifestyle factors. The mean number of classes attended for the 75 exercise subjects who completed the program was 60.0 (range 26-82). At the end of the trial, the exercise subjects showed improved performance in all five strength measures, in reaction time, neuromuscular control, body sway on a firm surface with the eyes open, and body sway on a compliant surface with the eyes open and closed. In contrast, there were no significant improvements in any of the test measures in the controls. In one test measure, hip flexion strength, the exercisers showed continued improvement throughout the study year. There was no significant difference in the proportion of fallers between the exercise and control subjects. Interesting trends were evident, however, between falls frequency and adherence to the exercise program.
Conclusions: These findings show that exercise can produce long-term benefits with regard to improving sensorimotor function in older persons. The findings also suggest that high compliance to an exercise program may reduce falls frequency, although further studies are required to conclusively demonstrate that exercise offers an effective means of preventing falls.