Habitual Brisk Walks And Other Types Of Exercise Helps Prevent Falls In Older Women, Study Finds

Deposit Photos

An Australian study published in JAMA Network Open found that older women who engaged in exercise equivalent to 30 minutes per day, five times a week were up to one-third less likely to experience fall-related injuries.

Brisk walking and moderate or moderate-to-vigorous activities were associated with reduced risk, as stated by the authors.

Deborah Kado, MD, a geriatrician at Stanford Health and co-director of the Stanford Longevity Center in Palo Alto, California, remarked that the findings, while encouraging, were not entirely surprising. She emphasized the significant health concern posed by falls among older adults, with approximately 1 out of 4 experiencing falls annually in the United States, resulting in about three million ER treatments.

Hip fractures resulting from falls are particularly alarming, with one meta-analysis suggesting a mortality rate of about 3 in 10 within the following year.

“It’s good to see data that suggests that getting more physical activity is associated with a lower risk of falling. Although we often take mobility — the ability to move safely from one place to another — for granted, when you lose it, you really lose your ability to be independent,” says Dr. Kado, who was not involved in the research.


Each Year, 3 Million Senior Citizens Visit the Emergency Room Due to Falls

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) approximates that annually, one in four older adults in the United States experience a fall, with approximately three million requiring emergency room treatment, highlighting a significant health issue.

Falls leading to hip fractures are particularly worrisome, with one meta-analysis indicating that around 30% of older adults who suffer from a hip fracture pass away within the subsequent year.


Over a Quarter of Participants Reported Falling Within the Last Year

According to the authors, the evidence regarding whether physical activity decreases the risk of falls has been inconclusive, and it remains uncertain how much exercise is necessary.

To delve deeper into the impact of physical activity on both injurious and non-injurious falls, researchers enlisted over 10,000 women aged between 45 and 50 years old back in 1996. Between 2016 and 2019, over 7,000 participants, with an average age of 67 years old, completed follow-up questionnaires.

The participants self-reported their weekly engagement in three types of physical activity:

  • Engaging in brisk walking for leisure, exercise, or transportation purposes
  • Participating in moderate activities such as social tennis, moderate-intensity exercise classes, and recreational swimming
  • Undertaking vigorous exercises that induce heavy breathing or panting, such as aerobics, intense cycling, running, and swimming

The participants were categorized into groups based on the duration of their physical activity: none, less than 150 minutes, 150 to 299 minutes, and 300 minutes or more, in accordance with the guidelines established by the World Health Organization (WHO) for physical activity.

WHO advises “Any amount of physical activity is better than none, and more is better.” The organization recommends a weekly engagement of at least 150 to 300 minutes in moderate or vigorous aerobic activities.

In the 2019 survey, participants responded to three inquiries regarding falls experienced in the previous year:

  • Did they have a fall to the ground?
  • Were they injured because of a fall?
  • Did they seek medical attention for a fall-related injury?

Approximately 2,000 women recounted experiencing falls within the past 12 months, with approximately half resulting in injury and the other half without.


Engaging in Physical Activity for 2.5 Hours Weekly Reduces the Risk of Falls

After adjusting for influencing factors, researchers found that engaging in 150 to 300 minutes of exercise per week reduced the risk of non-injurious falls by 26% and injurious falls by 30%. Exceeding 300 minutes per week lowered the risk by 34% for non-injurious falls and 23% for injurious falls.

Dr. Kado states that these results corroborate various exercise trials indicating a connection between physical activity and a decreased risk of falls.

Kado states that these results corroborate various exercise trials indicating a connection between physical activity and a decreased risk of falls. “For example, tai chi has been shown to help older adults reduce their risk of falling,” she says.

Tai chi, originating as an ancient Chinese martial arts practice, has been found effective in reducing fall risk in older adults, according to a meta-analysis of 24 randomized controlled trials published in September 2023. Brisk walking alone reduced the risk by 17% compared to no exercise, consistent with previous research highlighting walking’s preventive effects on falls.


Walking Decreased the Risk of Falls by 17%

According to the authors, brisk walking reduced the risk by 17 percent compared to no exercise at all, providing support for previous research indicating that walking can effectively prevent falls.

A Japanese study involving 90 older adults revealed that a walking intervention was more successful in reducing the risk of falls than balance training.


Positive News: Reaping Health Benefits Doesn’t Require Exercising for 3 Hours Weekly

While the study didn’t observe reductions in fall risk among those with less than 150 minutes of weekly activity, Dr. Kado suggested that this doesn’t negate the benefits of even small amounts of movement.

“The WHO guidelines are terrific, but to tell people they need to get 150 minutes of physical activity a week — I think that can be a deterrent for some people,” she says.

Dr. Kado adds that in the real world, most people aren’t getting between 2.5 and 5 hours of exercise a week.

However, she also says that you don’t have to meet that threshold to make meaningful improvements in your health.

“The truth of the matter is, if you look at data, even the smallest amount of activity has benefits. And the biggest bang for the buck is at the early part of the curve. So basically, if you’re a couch potato and don’t do any physical activity, if you just increase a little bit, like get up and down and walk around the house every 15 minutes, that will decrease your risk of dying early,” says Dr. Kado.