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Two Simple Lifestyle Changes May Help Keep Seniors From Falling

June 3, 2012

Falls are the leading cause of injury in adults aged 65 years or older. In fact, between 30 and 40 percent of community-dwelling seniors fall at least once every year. The US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recently reviewed dozens of studies on aspects of fall prevention and made recommendations to help prevent household and recreational injuries, including falls. Their advice centers on exercise or physical therapy and vitamin D supplementation.

Information from nine trials involving vitamin D supplementation pointed to about a 17 percent risk reduction for falls during 6 to 36 months of follow-up; several of these studies targeted vitamin D-deficient older adults and the effect was greater among this group, the task force wrote online in the Annals of Internal Medicine. In its review of 50 studies on exercise, the task force found convincing evidence that exercise or physical therapy also reduced the risk of falls by approximately 13 percent, a "modest" effect, but an effect nonetheless. And exercise brings other benefits with it, such as boosting heart health and making it easier to control weight.

How much exercise? The US Department of Health and Human Services recommends that older adults get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, as well as muscle-strengthening activities twice a week. It also recommends balance training 3 or more days per week for older adults at risk for falling because of a recent fall or difficulty walking. The American Geriatrics Society recommends that exercise interventions include balance, gait and strength training. An evaluation and simple training program from a physical therapist can make sure all these goals are achieved in an easy to follow fitness program. Talk to your doctor about these measures and a referral to a PT.