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  • Dr. Pat McShane

Reducing Fall Risk: The Role of Physical Activity

Falls are one of the most feared events in the life of an older woman and they account for a large percent of disability and even deaths.  Having a fall often results in a downward spiral of inactivity, which leads to less fitness.  A fall that doesn’t lead to injury may still cause a woman to fear undertaking even normal activities. We know that physical activity is full of benefits including cardiovascular fitness, avoidance of frailty, improved mood, better sleep, to name a few.


Studying the relationship between falls and exercise intensity/frequency has shown inconsistent outcomes.   Researchers used data from the ALSWH (Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health) recently to improve our knowledge.  They followed a cohort of women born from 1946 to 1951, asking about their leisure time physical activity in 2016, following up with questions about injurious and noninjurious falls in 2019. 


28% of the 7139 women studied experienced a fall in the preceding year, about half of which were injurious or received medical attention.  Compared to women reporting minimal leisure time physical activity, those whose physical activity met or exceeded the World Health Organization recommendation (150 to <300 min/week) reported a quarter to a third fewer injurious and noninjurious falls.  Moderate amounts of activity including vigorous walking was associated with 10-15% reduction in falls also; the type of activity didn’t seem to make a difference.  Women reporting lesser amounts of activity did not experience a reduction in falls.


Of course studies of this nature can be faulted for “reverse causality” (the authors caution: it is possible that ”women less prone to fall participated in more LPA [leisure time physical activity]”).  But given the abundance of other data about the importance of physical activity, I’ll bet against reverse causation in this case!


Stay active, stay healthy!

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