Falls, fractures, and how strength training can prevent them

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by Richard Chartrand

Falling is an event that depends on the circumstances. Kids fall multiple times each week. Considering how low to the ground they are and how their bones are constantly becoming stronger, falling is usually a small concern, at most.

On the other hand, falls are almost always a cause for concern with older adults, who often need medical attention after a fall, and fractures are common. 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 not-fat injuries in older adults.

Strength training can help in a number of ways. Strength training can prevent falls from occurring. 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 balance. A study in 2014 showed an increase in balance and a lower rate of falling during 12 weeks of strength training when compared to the months prior to training. A second study published in 2011 showed that older adults who strength trained experienced an average of one fewer fall during the eight-week training period when compared to a control group that only performed stretching.

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.

Strength training can slow bone density loss, and even reverse the process and increase bone density in many people. Part of the reason why falls are so dangerous for older adults but less so for middle-aged adults or young children is due to bone density.

Osteoporosis, a disease of low bone mass, is most common in older adults, especially postmenopausal 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.

The researchers in the 2011 study said, “… interventions to improve strength and functional status are useful for fall prevention in older adults.”

Strength training increases bone strength, balance, and ultimately, decreases the likelihood of falling for older adults.

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