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Exercise can reduce falls by one quarter

The right kind of exercise, including balance and functional training, can reduce falls in older people, a review shows

The right kind of exercise, including balance and functional training, can reduce falls in older people, a review shows


Programmes such as t'ai chi that involve balance can reduce falls risk. Picture: Neil O’Connor

Exercise routines can reduce the number of falls in older people, but this only applies to exercises that include an element of balance and functional training. At least one third of people over the age of 65 living in the community fall each year, and falls are the leading cause of death from accidental injury worldwide.

This Cochrane review summarises the results of 108 randomised controlled trials carried out in 25 countries among participants with an average age of 76. It found evidence that exercise can reduce the number of falls in older people by around one quarter, but not all types of exercise are equally effective.

The review found no evidence that programmes mainly designed to increase flexibility or exercises designed to increase endurance, such as dancing or walking, reduced the number of falls, although they may be beneficial in other ways.

Balance and function

But there is good evidence that programmes such as t'ai chi that mainly involve balance and functional exercises mimicking real-life activities, such as standing up from a seated position, can reduce the risk of falls in older people.

There is less certainty about programmes that include multiple exercise categories, but they probably reduce falls if they include some balance and functional exercises.

Exercises including balance and functional activity can be effective whether they are done in groups with trained exercise leaders or individually at home.


Ruth Sander is an independent consultant in the care of older people

Further information

NHS (2018) Overview on Falls

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