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Apr 03, 2015

Exercise Prevents Fall Injuries in Older Women

Finnish study assesses the effects of Vitamin D and strength training in women prone to falling.

Exercise training may not prevent falls in older women but it could protect them from injuries, according to a study recently published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Conducted at a hospital in Tampere, Finland, this study assessed the roles of both vitamin D and exercise for fall prevention among older women. Falls are the leading cause of injuries in older adults and research suggests that both vitamin D supplements and strength training may help address this concern. In fact, organizations like the American Geriatric Society recommend that adults at high risk for falls take vitamin D supplements to help prevent such events. However, it’s unclear just how effective these approaches are in reducing falls in older adults.

To learn more, researchers tested the use of vitamin D and exercise in more than 400 older women who lived at home and had a history of falling. Women were randomly assigned to one of four study groups. The first three groups of women took daily vitamin D supplements, participated in exercise programs, or both. The fourth group did neither. After following participants for two years, researchers found that none of the interventions helped reduce the number of falls for study participants. However, among women who fell, those who exercised had half the risk of injury compared to those who didn’t. 

These findings add to a wealth of evidence that strength and balance training can prevent injuries from falls in older adults. Exercise is key to good health, and fall prevention provides one more reason to stay active, especially as we get older.

These findings also raise doubts about current guidelines that recommend vitamin D supplements for fall prevention. Although vitamin D helps strengthen bones and protects adults from osteoporosis, vitamin D had no impact on the number of falls or risk of injury from falls in this study. However, experts still support current recommendations, as 11 past clinical trials suggest that vitamin D helps reduce risk of falls by 11%. Experts do not believe that this single trial should change our understanding of vitamin D and fall risk and they encourage future research to address fall prevention in our aging population.

Questions for You to Consider

  • Who is at risk for vitamin D deficiency?

  • Those at greatest risk for vitamin D deficiency include breast-fed infants, older adults, people with dark skin, people with fat malabsorption and people who are obese or have undergone gastric bypass surgery.
  • What are good sources of vitamin D?

  • Vitamin D can be found naturally in a few food sources such as fatty fish, cheese and egg yolks. Vitamin D is also added to some food products like milk and some yogurts, juices and cereals. The best way to prevent vitamin D deficiency, however, is to get enough regular exposure to the sun and to take supplements when necessary.

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