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Release: Immediate

UI researchers find strength training lowers risk of falling among older adults

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The "I've fallen and can't get up" ads have been the brunt of many jokes, but falling is no joke to older adults.

One-third of adults 75 years and older in an independent living situation report having fallen in the last year. Some 85 percent of the fractures caused by those falls lead to health complications or even death. Complications can decrease independence, lower morale and become a financial burden.

Programs are available to help seniors improve their strength, flexibility and balance so they can avoid falls, but most are in medical settings and not accessible to all older people.

Dr. Kenneth Mobily, University of Iowa professor of sports, health, leisure and physical studies, has developed a low-tech, community-based strength training program that improves the physical condition and capabilities in older folks and helps prevent falls.

The results of the eight-week progressive resistance training program are published in the most recent issue of the Therapeutic Recreation Journal.

"One of the big benefits of the program is that one doesn't need a high-tech medical setting, and a community health worker or nurse can run it," Mobily said. "It is an example of taking what is done in a medical facility into the community."

Fifteen people -- three men and 12 women between the ages of 60 and 83 years old -- from the Johnson County Senior Center participated in the program. The training routine consisted of a five-minute warmup, including flexibility exercises, a 30-minute workout with light weights designed to improve muscle strength and endurance, followed by a five-minute cool-down period, again using flexibility exercises. Exercises to improve static balance and balance while moving were also included because a number of falls occur when older people change direction.

The participants were tested on flexibility, agility, dynamic and static balance, motor coordination, cardiovascular endurance, and muscular endurance before and after training. Mobily and co-author Paula Mobily, associate professor in the UI College of Nursing, found that training led to significant improvement in five of the seven measures: flexibility, agility, dynamic balance, motor coordination, and muscle endurance.