and Physiology Information
Women Pump Iron for Old Bones
The Vancouver Sun
reduces risk of elderly females falling by as much as 57 per cent,
VANCOUVER - Elderly
women can reduce their risk of falling by as much as 57 per cent
if they do about two hours of supervised weight training twice
a week, according to a new study by University of B.C./Vancouver
Coastal Health Research Institute investigators.
Published in the Journal
of the American Geriatrics Society, it is the first study of its
kind to compare the benefits of different types of exercise --
resistance (weight training), agility and stretching (posture).
Pumping iron held
a clear advantage, although all the female participants (aged
75 to 85) in the six-month study enjoyed a lower fall-risk score
by the end of their training program. They all started the program
with bone-mass scores which predisposed them to injuries from
falling. Older women with osteoporosis are considered to have
a greater risk of falling, and of being injured in such falls,
because of compromised balance and muscular strength, compared
to their counterparts who do not have osteoporosis.
Dr. Karim Khan, study
co-author and a leading bone health expert, said the results are
"dramatic and fantastic," especially because about 30
per cent of people over age 65 fall at least once a year and 95
per cent of hip fractures in the elderly are caused by falls.
The resulting fractures often have devastating results because
50 per cent of patients end up losing their independence and another
20 per cent die within a year.
A study published
by Statistics Canada Tuesday in Health Reports shows the magnitude
of the problem as nine per cent of men and 15 per cent of women
over the age of 65 were shown to have suffered a fall after tripping
or slipping in a 2000/2001 survey of households across Canada.
Only teenage boys
(12 per cent) and girls (nine per cent) had such high rates of
injuries caused by falls, but in the case of teenagers, the falls
most often stemmed from athletic or recreational pursuits, not
from slipping, stumbling or tripping as is the case with seniors.
"Falls and fear
of falling are major concerns for older people," lead author
Teresa Liu-Ambrose said of the research which has confirmed weight
training as a bona fide fall risk reduction strategy.
Seventy-six year old
Richmond resident Betty Sullivan knows all about fractures caused
by falling. She has spent a good chunk of the past 15 years in
is Betty Bone Breaker. I've broken each wrist twice and I broke
my arm as well," she said.
When Sullivan was
asked to participate in the study, she grabbed the opportunity.
"My eldest daughter
who's 50 got checked for osteoarthritis and she got after me to
do the same so I did and, of course, I have it, which explains
why I have shrunk in height nearly two inches," she said.
Sullivan was asked
to participate in the study because of her diagnosed low bone
mass and she joined 97 other women who were randomly assigned
to one of three exercise programs at the South Slope Family YMCA.
Liu-Ambrose said the exercise program has proven so beneficial
that its principles have been adopted into a provincewide "osteofit"
program that is offered at numerous community centres.
Sullivan said the
weight training improved her overall well-being so much that even
after the study ended, she made a commitment to keep it up, and
goes to the Steveston Community Centre, in addition to golfing
and walking, to keep fit.
"The best thing
of all is that I can get into the bathtub now by myself because
of the strength I have now to support myself as I get in and out.
And I haven't fallen once since starting the weight training program.
It helps with my balance. I'm more steady on my feet and I'm more
Khan said the risk
of falling is based on objective tests which measure visual acuity,
strength, reaction times, perception and steadiness. While the
weight training group lowered their fall risk the most (57.3 per
cent) the participants who did agility training also had a dramatic
risk reduction (47.5 per cent) and the stretching group improved
by 20.2 per cent.
Those in the stretching
group learned proper posture and also did deep- breathing and
relaxation techniques. The agility group did ball games, relay
races, dance movements and obstacle courses to improve hand-eye/foot-eye
coordination, balance and reaction time.
Khan said the study
showed that the strength training has an edge on other forms of
exercise but the results do not come quickly as the difference
in fall risk advantage really only became apparent after the participants
had been doing it for at least four months.
that exercise interventions in the elderly are labour intensive
because the activities must be fully supervised, so that frail
elderly people don't injure themselves. There were 39 falls documented
in the study, none of which resulted in injury.
The study authors
say it demonstrates that women with low bone mass have the capacity
to participate in demanding exercise programs with acceptable
risk. And while it may be expensive to provide free training in
a publicly funded medicare system, the fact that hospital costs
of falls is $120 million in B.C. annually, means it may be cost-effective
to provide such programming.
83, says she benefitted so much she hired a private trainer she
now sees twice a week.
"I drive to her
house and she has everything set up in her garage. It's enjoyable,
it's made me stronger and my upper back pain is gone," says
the Richmond resident.
For the location of
an osteofit program in your community, call 604-875-2555.