Exercise to prevent falls and fractures

Boosting your activity levels and doing strength and balance exercises significantly reduces your risk of breaking a bone as a result of falling if you are over 60, according to experts from an international research group based at The University of Manchester.

Falls are the leading cause of fatal injuries among older people, but experts from across Europe argue they should not just be written off as an unavoidable consequence of aging.

Ahead of International Older People's Day on 1 October ageing experts at The University of Manchester are advising people 60 plus to increase their to reduce the risk of potentially fatal trips and falls.

The University of Manchester is part of ProFouND: the Prevention of Falls Network for Dissemination - a European Commission-funded network aiming to provide the best falls prevention advice to help prevent falls among older people across Europe.

ProFouND is training exercise coaches across Europe to deliver training in their local regions and extend exercise programmes to reach some 84,000 older people by 2016.

Older people who have a history of falls, take 4 or more medications, who have problems walking, use a walking aid or have conditions such as a previous stroke, Parkinson's disease, dementia or arthritis are at increased risk of falls.

Fear of falling, problems with continence, poor vision or strength and balance problems also heighten the risk.

Dr Emma Stanmore, from The University of Manchester, said: "The golden rule to prevent falls and strengthen bones is to work on strength and balance. There are a number of options and perhaps Tai Chi exercises are the best known. But exercise programmes like the "Otago" and "Postural Stability" programmes are also widely available.

"We'd usually recommend someone with a history of falls or who has not been very active to visit their GP for prescribed exercises, which can start at their particular level of ability and be built up as they get stronger. This might involve squats to strengthen leg muscles and standing on one leg to practice balancing, with weights being added to improve bone density and muscle retention as they progress. These are things that everyone can do usually in their own home and make a world of difference."

She continues: "Many people wrongly think that falls are just a part of aging and something to be expected as you get older but this is not true at all and exercise will make you less likely to fall."

Falls cost the NHS £2.3billion a year and around a third of people over-65 and half of those over 80 will fall every year. Exercise can significantly reduce falls risk.

Professor Chris Todd, overall project leader of the ProFouND network based at The University of Manchester, said: "There is now a strong body of evidence, which shows doing strength and balance exercises can protect against falls. ProFouND is supporting the European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing by making training material available across EU to help reduce the numbers of falls suffered by older people in Europe.

"In the last year we have trained 35 instructors in Europe who will themselves train many more exercise coaches to help exercise safely and dramatically reduce their risk of falling. Our instructors are now carrying out work in more European countries working towards an EU standard. Exercise leaflets have been translated into 14 languages with six more languages to go. Together the partnership hopes to make a real difference improving in later life and keeping people out of hospital for longer."

Top tips to increase your exercise levels if you are 60+

  • Minimise the amount of time spent sitting and being sedentary.
  • Aim to be active daily
  • Try to do 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity in bouts of 10 minutes or more each week (so 10 minutes a couple of times each day)
  • Try visiting your local library to find out about exercise classes close to you 
  • Many health authorities have information on sessions that aim to improve strength and balance, or look at the NHS prevention page on the internet." 

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Falls don't have to be part of getting older, experts argue

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