Exercise programs that lend strength, flexibility, and balance might be one of the best ways to prevent falls among people age 65 and older, according to an article by Newswise based on a Cochrane review of more than 100 studies.

Lesley Gillespie, an orthopedic trauma specialist at the University of Otago in New Zealand, and colleagues examined 111 studies of falling prevention measures, which included more than 55,000 people from 15 countries. The studies suggest that group exercise programs, Tai Chi, and home exercise programs all reduce the risk of falls and the rate of falling. 

“Effective exercise programs for reducing falls focus on balance, strength, and flexibility, and challenge the older adults to improve in all of these components,” said Bonita Lynn Beattie, PT, vice president for injury prevention at the Center for Healthy Aging. She suggested that older adults should check in with their primary doctor before beginning an exercise program, especially if they “have significant weakness, balance issues, or dizziness.”

A variety of other measures – from pacemakers to vitamin D supplements – might be useful in preventing certain individuals from falling, but exercise appears to be the most widely effective strategy for reducing both the risk of falling and the overall number of falls among older people.

For instance, “taking vitamin D supplements probably does not reduce falls, except in people who have a low level of vitamin D in the blood,” Gillespie said. Similarly, cataract surgery and insertion of a pacemaker can help specific groups of people with poor eyesight or certain blood pressure conditions fall less often.

Behavioral changes also can make a difference. “An older adult should probably reconsider climbing on a ladder to clean gutters or using a chair to change a light bulb or reach high shelves,” Beattie says.