New research suggests that exercise programs aimed at preventing falls in older adults may also prevent injuries caused by falls. This is according to a study published in the BMJ.

Researchers from France say their findings suggest that health care providers should encourage elderly patients to take part in exercise fall-prevention programs.

Falls among older adults are very common. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 3 adults aged 65 or over suffers a fall each year.

Furthermore, the CDC says that 20-30% of people who fall suffer moderate to severe injuries, including lacerations, hip fractures or head traumas.

These injuries can have serious implications on a person’s mobility and independence, increasing the risk of discharge to a nursing home, as well as incurring high economic costs.

According to the researchers, well-designed exercise programs can prevent falls in older adults who live at home. But they note there has been little evidence to show that these programs can prevent injuries caused by falls.

To see whether fall-prevention exercise programs are linked to lower risk of fractures and other fall-related injuries, the researchers analyzed data from 17 trials involving 4,305 participants of a mean age of 76.

One group of 2,195 participants carried out exercise programs, while a group of 2,110 participants were controls.

Two of the trials consisted of tai chi as an exercise, while others were made up of gait, balance, strength, resistance and functional training – exercise that involves training for activities carried out in everyday life.

The researchers note that the trials involved in the review varied in their definitions of injurious falls. Therefore, they based their findings on the severity of the falls and whether they resulted in medical care.

Results of the review revealed that the majority of exercise interventions appeared to reduce all injuries related to falls, and exercise seemed to significantly decrease the rate of falls that resulted in medical care, fractures and serious injuries.

The effect of exercise interventions appeared to be more prominent for severe fall-related injuries, the researchers note. They estimated the overall reduction to be 37% for all injurious falls, 43% for severe injurious falls and 61% for falls resulting in fractures.

The researchers emphasize that this study provides evidence that fall-prevention exercise programs for older adults reduces fall-related injuries, as well as the incidence of falls.

From this, they suggest that health care providers should work to encourage older adults to take part in exercise programs.

The researchers say:

The results presented in this paper show a positive effect of exercise on injurious falls, including the most severe falls and those that result in medical care – that is, those with the greatest consequences for people’s health and use of resources.

These results should provide useful additional evidence for health care providers to encourage participation in exercise fall prevention programs, and further justification for decision makers to provide funding for those programs.”

The study authors conclude that future research is warranted to include data on other important outcomes, such as physical and cognitive function capacities, psychological outcomes and quality of life.

Medical News Today recently reported on a study suggesting that exercise may ward of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.