Some of the essentials for performing the most ordinary daily and many recreational activities are good balance and mobility. The act of balancing is a complex task involving co-ordination between the body’s muscles and sensors, which are part of the body’s nervous system. Older people have a reduced ability to keep in balance due to a combination of various factors, including stiff joints, reduced muscle strength, delayed reaction times and changes in the sensory system.

According to a previous Cochrane review, regular exercise helps older people to improve their balance and reduces their risk of falling. After 62 new studies have been added to existing data, researchers feel, that despite the emergence of some useful ideas, there is still need for high quality evidence of which exercise types prove to be most effective. The results have been published in The Cochrane Library.

Researchers evaluated 94 studies including a total of 9,917 participants to identify a list of different exercise types that had been tested to improve balance. Director of Glasgow City of Science and lead author Prof Tracey Howe, at the School of Health & Life Sciences at Glasgow Caledonian University commented: “The information has helped to shed more light on the different approaches to exercise that have been undertaken in studies to date.”

Researchers identified one or more of the following activities from the exercises programs to improve balance:

  • three-dimensional exercises, including Tai Chi, dance and yoga
  • exercise focusing on a person’s walking, balance and co-ordination
  • general physical activity such as walking or cycling
  • strengthening exercises
  • exercise with vibrating platforms
  • computerized balance training using visual feedback

Howe explains:

“Although the duration and frequency of these exercise programs vary, in general the effective programs ran three times a week for a duration of three months and involved exercises that challenged people’s balance while they were standing. Interestingly we found that walking and cycling generally do not improve balance, although they have many other beneficial effects.”

The researchers discovered much of the evidence to be of poor quality, which made combining different studies extremely difficult due to lack of consistency in the measurement instruments used to test balance.

Howe concludes:

“If the research community identified a core group of balance outcomes that were used in all future studies, we would be in a much stronger position to combine individual studies and better understand of which type of exercise is the most effective to improve balance.”

Written by Petra Rattue