The Role of Exercise
Literature suggests that the most beneficial intervention for preventing or reducing falls is a multifactorial approach that involves reducing environmental hazards, behavioural education, medication adjustment, and exercise (Campbell et.al, 1997; Robertson et.al., 2001). Multifaceted interventions can prevent falls in the general community for those at higher risk of falling as well as in residential care facilities (NICE, 2013; Gillespie et al., 2003). Of these components, exercise was proven to be the most important factor to prevent and reduce someone’s risk of falling.
Overall reduction in falls risk when exercising daily
Evidence suggests that exercise contributes an overall reduction in falls risk of 17% based on a number of studies assessing exercise programs and rate of falls in older populations. The most effective exercise treatment was a combination of individually prescribed lower body strengthening exercise, balance retraining exercises, walking and Tai chi.
Exercise interventions not only reduce the rate of falls, but also prevent injuries associated with falling in older community-dwelling people. Evidence suggests that multi-component exercise can improve reaction time, gait, muscle strength, coordination and overall physical and cognitive functioning, which aid in the reduction of injurious falls (El-Khoury et al., 2003).
In conjunction with improving balance and decreasing risk of falling, exercise has been proven to improve cognitive functioning and the speed and effectiveness of protective reflexes or the energy absorbing capacity of soft tissues (muscles). This in turn can reduce the force of impact a fall may have on the body and reduce associated trauma (El-Khoury et al., 2003).
Not all falls are physically injurious, however can have a significant psychological impact on the individual. Depression, fear of falling and other psychological problems – post-fall syndrome – are common effects of repeated falls. Loss of self-confidence as well as social withdrawal, confusion and loneliness can occur, even when there has been no injuries. (Rubenstein, 2006)