Older women with low bone density have a greater risk of breaking a hip if they fall. Unfortunately, fall-related fractures are terribly debilitating, resulting in long-term pain, trouble walking, and difficulty doing even simple daily chores. All too often, a simple broken hip leads to life in a nursing home or other long-term care facility.
A new study published in the latest issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine (September 27, 2010) shows that women may be able to prevent falls if they follow a simple program of home-based exercises.
The researchers followed women over age 70, all of whom had osteopenia (pre-osteoporosis) for an average of about 7 years. Even though bone density did not improve, women who exercised had fewer overall fractures and no hip fractures. They also had better balance, faster walking speed, and improved ability to do daily chores.
The women in the study learned the exercise routine from a physiotherapist, but then were asked to continue to train 20 minutes a day at home. Just 20 minutes a day could make the difference between independence and a life in a nursing home.
Anyone who wants to start an exercise program should talk with a doctor first. Once you are cleared, the types of exercises used in this study are the kind most people can do at home. (If you do any of these on your own, be sure to do them at your own pace, and on a stable surface. Hold onto chairs, walls, railings, or anything else to keep your balance.) The exercises include:
- Rapid walking
- Walking with arm movements
- Knee bends
- Leg lifts
- Heel rises and drops
- Stepping sideways, forward, backward
- Stair climbing
The overall goal is to start slowly, but keep a regular routine of balancing and strengthening exercises. Better yet, find a partner to exercise with you—there is strength in numbers. You can encourage each other, and even provide balance for each other if necessary.
But remember…talk with your doctor, and stay safe. Then, get strong!
“Long-term Outcomes of Exercise: Follow-up of a Randomized Trial in Older Women with Osteopenia.” Archive of Internal Medicine; Sept 27, 2010; pages1548-1556.
“Effect of Exercise on Extraskeletal Risk Factors for Hip Fractures in Elderly Women with Low BMD: A Population-Based Randomized Controlled Trial.” Journal of Bone and Mineral Research; Jan 23, 2006; pages 772-779. (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1359/jbmr.060116/pdf)