Stay upright to stay alive. Strength train
Every 11 seconds, an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall. Every 19 minutes, an older adult dies from one (CDC).
Falls are the leading cause of fatal injury and the most common cause of nonfatal trauma-related hospital admissions among older adults.
To avoid battling the trauma of a fall, strength training is the solution. Here’s how…
Older adults who strength train, even for as little as two months, are less likely to fall.
This is likely due to the importance of strength itself, which is a large underlying factor in
The Center for Disease Control states that one in every three adults at least 65 years old fall every year. About 20-30% of these falls lead to injuries of some kind. When considering these statistics, it’s no surprise that falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries in older adults.
Part of the reason why falls are so dangerous for older adults but less so for middle-aged adults or children is due to bone density.
Osteoporosis, a disease of low bone mass, is most common in older adults, especially post-menopausal women. Men and women generally start losing bone density in their mid-thirties but this trend doesn’t become significant until around 55 years old.
As bone mass decreases, bones become hollower and break easier, even with a soft fall from a standing position. Effective strength training can slow bone density loss, and even reverse the process and increase bone density in many people. Strength training can prevent falls from occurring too.
Two studies focused on adults between 85 to 97 years old strength training and measured rate of falls before and during training. One study, published in 2014, noticed an increase in balance and a lower rate of falling during 12 weeks of strength training when compared to the months prior to training.
In a 2011 study, older adults who strength trained experienced an average of one less fall during the eight-week training period when compared to a control group that only performed stretching. A 2013 research review of 107 fall prevention studies showed that strength training led to lower fall rates 70% of the time.
The participants in both groups experienced another benefit which may explain why balance and fall rates improved: they gained strength in muscles that control their knee and hip joints. Strength dictates the ease of the body to move, especially when overcoming obstacles such as walking on unstable surfaces or over objects.
The worst kind of Fall
There’s a condition which is responsible for taking the lives of about one of every four people who suffer from it within one year of developing it. It is something that we’ll all face the risk of, and it affects both men and women as we age. It’s not heart disease. It’s not diabetes. It’s a hip fracture.
About 1.6 million hip fractures occur yearly, a significant increase from the early 1990s. Hip fractures largely happen as the result of falls along with osteoporosis. In other words, hip fractures are merely the awful consequence of two ongoing issues: poor balance and weak, hollow bones. Balance is largely an issue of weakness.
A collection of 30 studies found that adults, 65 and older, were at a much greater risk of falling when having very little strength. The individuals with the weakest lower body muscles were 76% more likely to suffer a fall. For all individuals who did suffer a fall, the ones with the weakest legs were three times more likely to fall again!
Does strength training reduce all risks?
You might be wondering, does strength training address ALL areas that contribute to fractured hips? Does resistance exercise improve bone strength, balance, muscle strength, and reduce fall risk? Researchers from the Netherlands and Belgium assessed 28 studies using strength training or various types of activity to see what practices are effective for reducing falls and fall risk factors. Twenty of those studies focused on strength training. Here are the key results:
- People who strength trained gained strength in every study that measured strength.
- Those who strength trained improved bone density in the lumbar spine, hip, and thigh in most cases.
- Strength exercise also led to improvements in walking speed, static balance, and balance while moving.
- Finally, and perhaps most importantly, fall risk decreased. Two of three studies showed large reductions in the rate of falling when comparing strength training towards other programs.
Hip fractures are a common and life-threatening concern. They happen as a result of several issues: weak bones, poor balance/a high risk of falling, and weak muscles. Strength training reduces the overall rate of falling and bone fractures because it increases the ability to balance, increases muscle strength, and makes the bones stronger and more resistant. Stay upright. Stay alive. Strength train today.
- Cadore, E. L., Casas-Herrero, A., Zambom-Ferraresi, F., Idoate, F., Millor, N., Gómez, M.,…& Izquierdo, M. (2014). Multicomponent exercises including muscle power training enhance muscle mass, power output, and functional outcomes in institutionalized frail nonagenarians. Age, 36(2), 773-785.
- El-Khoury, F., Cassou, B., Charles, M. A., & Dargent-Molina, P. (2013). The effect of fall prevention exercise programmes on fall induced injuries in community dwelling older adults: systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Bmj, 347, f6234.
- Serra‐Rexach, J. A., Bustamante‐Ara, N., Hierro Villarán, M., González Gil, P., Sanz Ibáñez, M. J., Blanco Sanz, N., … & Lucia, A. (2011). Short‐term, light‐to moderate‐intensity exercise training improves leg muscle strength in the oldest old: a randomized controlled trial. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society,59(4), 594-602.
- International Osteoporosis Foundation. (2017). Facts and statistics. IOF. Retrieved from https://www.iofbonehealth.org/facts-statistics
- Moreland, J.D., Richardson, J.A., Goldsmith, C.H., & Clase, C.M. (2004). Muscle weakness and falls in older adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 52(7), 1121-1129.
- De Kam, D., Smulders, E., Weerdesteyn, V., & Smits-Engelsman, B.C. (2009). Exercise interventions to reduce fall-related fractures and their risk factors in individuals with low bone density: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Osteoporosis International, 20, 2111-2125.
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