Young people may find humor in a person slipping on ice or tripping over their own feet so long as no one gets hurt. People over the age of 65 have a different outlook on a minor slip or fall because they know the potential danger. A recent study conducted by researchers from Yale University has found that older men can significantly reduce their risk of sustaining a serious fall by exercising. Unfortunately, physical activity does not seem to have the same effect on older women.

"The physical activity program was more effective in reducing the rate of serious fall injuries in men than in women," said Dr. Thomas M. Gill, professor of geriatrics at Yale, in a statement.

Gill and his colleagues gathered data using the Lifestyle Interventions and Independence for Elders (LIFE) Study to understand the effects of long-term, moderate exercise on 1,635 sedentary people over the age of 70 compared to health education classes. Physical activity programs included flexibility, strength, balance training exercises, and moderate walking. The LIFE Study is the largest and longest analysis of older people and physical activity.

Although the results did not show an overall reduction in serious falls among all seniors participating in the study, they did bring to light some gender differences. Men in the exercise group saw a 38 percent reduction in their risk for sustaining a serious fall, however, women saw no noticeable reduction. Older men who exercised also reduced their likelihood of fall-related fractures by 53 percent and reduced their rates of fall injuries that lead to hospitalization by 59 percent.

"The results from the current study support continued evaluation of the physical activity program for possible widespread implementation in the community," Gill added.

Around one-third of older people experience falls and 10 percent of those people suffer a serious injury while doing so. Serious falls are considered the leading cause of injury among people over the age of 70. The research team did provide potential explanations as to why men benefited from exercise, but not women. Findings did show that men were able to increase their levels of physical activity compared to women and experienced greater improvements in their gait, balance, and muscle strength.

Don’t worry ladies. There are still options for reducing the likelihood of suffering a fall as you age. More and more research shows that all older people can reduce their risk for falls by taking vitamin D supplements. One study in particular revealed that although vitamin D supplementation does increase bone density, it was the effect vitamin D had on cognition that lowered older people’s risk for falling. Older people should consult their doctor before starting a vitamin D regimen to decide on which dosage is best.

Source: Gill T, Pahor M, Guralnik J, et al. The BMJ. 2016.