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Primary Prevention – Reduces chance of falls

Reduces chance of falls

Evidence summary

There is strong evidence to suggest that exercise interventions in at-risk individuals are associated with reduced falls, fall-related injuries and frailty. A systematic review & meta-analysis of exercise as a single intervention (88 trials; 19 478 particpants) in older people demonstrated a 21% reduction in falls in older people living in the community (pooled rate ratio 0.79; 95% CI 0.73-0.85; p<0.001). Greatest effect was conveyed by interventions that included both balance training and greater than 3h of physical activity per week (1). Another meta-analysis of RCTs demonstrated that exercise interventions reduced both fall-related fractures (relative risk 0.604; 95% CI 0.453-0.840; p=0.003) and rate of falls (rate ratio 0.856; 95% CI 0.778-0.941; p=0.001) in older people (2). This was confirmed again by a single group study of individuals in community seniors centres, which demonstrated a 49% reduction in number of falls after implementation of an evidence-based exercise & education falls prevention programme (3).

Evidence from an RCT comparing group- and home-based exercise interventions against standard care demonstrated a significant reduction in falls-related injuries (IRR 0.55; p=0.04). This effect lasted for 12 months after the end of the intervention and there was a significant reduction in total fall rate during this 12 month period (IRR 0.74; p=0.04). A significant reduction in falls incidence persisted in participants of the group-based exercise intervention who maintained levels of 150 minutes of moderate-vigorous physical activity/week at 24 months after the intervention (4). A recent Systematic review & meta-analysis reported that, compared to controls, practice of Tai Chi was associated with a significant reduction in chance of falling more than once, and rate of falls (5). No significant difference was demonstrated between eccentric vs. traditional resistance exercises for those >65y with ≥1 fall in the preceeding 12 months (6).

Physical inactivity has been linked to frailty in both mid and later life. A prospective longitudinal cohort (n=6233) study reports that moderate or no physical activity at age 50y is a predictor for frailty (7). This was confirmed by another birth cohort study which demonstrated that poor performance in physical tests (grip strength, chair rise & standing balance) at age 53y was associated with mobility or personal care disability at age 69y (8). A positive association has been demonstrated between physical activity in mid-life and both ‘successful ageing’ (no major chronic diseases, no cognitive impairment, physical impairment or mental health limitations) and reduced disability/frailty (9). 5 out of studies in this systematic review reported a positive association between physical activity in mid-life and physical mobility/physical functioning/reduced disability in later life (1 study observed no significant association). An RCT (n=172; mean participant age 78.3y) demonstrated that implementation of a combined physical activity and nutritional assessment programme in older adults led to a trend towards reduced frailty – 4.9% of the intervention group had progressed to frailty, compared to 15.3% of the control group (odds ratio 0.19; 95% CI 0.08-1.08; p=0.052) (10).

Quality of evidence

High quality

Strength of recommendation



  1. Exercise to prevent falls in older adults: an updated systematic review and meta-analysis.

Br J Sports Med. 2017 Dec;51(24):1750-1758. Epub 2016 Oct 4.

  1. Exercise interventions and prevention of fall-related fractures in older people: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.

Int J Epidemiol. 2017 Feb 1;46(1):149-161.

  1. Implementing an Evidence-Based Fall Prevention Intervention in Community Senior Centers.

Am J Public Health. 2016 Nov;106(11):2026-2031. Epub 2016 Sep 15.

  1. Reducing falls among older people in general practice: The ProAct65+ exercise intervention trial.

Arch Gerontol Geriatr. 2016 Nov-Dec;67:46-54. Epub 2016 Jun 29.

  1. Systematic review and meta-analysis: Tai Chi for preventing falls in older adults.

BMJ Open. 2017 Feb 6;7(2):e013661.

  1. Eccentric versus traditional resistance exercise for older adult fallers in the community: a randomized trial within a multi-component fall reduction program.

BMC Geriatr. 2017 Jul 17;17(1):149.

  1. Midlifecontributors to socioeconomic differences in frailty during later life: a prospective cohort study.

Lancet Public Health. 2018 Jun 13. pii: S2468-2667(18)30079-3.[Epub ahead of print]

  1. Can measures ofphysicalperformance in mid-life improve the clinical prediction of disability in early old age? Findings from a British birth cohort study.

Exp Gerontol. 2018 Jun 7;110:118-124. [Epub ahead of print]

  1. Behavioural Risk Factors in Mid-Life Associated with Successful Ageing, Disability, Dementia and Frailty in Later Life: A Rapid Systematic Review.

PLoS One. 2016 Feb 4;11(2):e0144405. eCollection 2016.

  1. Effectiveness of an intervention to prevent frailty in pre-frail community-dwelling older people consulting in primary care: a randomised controlled trial.

Age Ageing. 2017 May 1;46(3):401-407