The Grapevine

Exercise In Old Age Can Prevent Falls, Vitamin D Supplements Not Needed

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) has issued new recommendations for the elderly to reduce the risk of falls. Older adults should take up exercising and avoid vitamin D and calcium supplements, the panel said in a statement.

The recommendations were based on a review of eight studies consisting of 47,672 participants. While lower doses of vitamin D supplementation interventions showed mixed results, high doses showed an association with higher rates of fall-related incidents.

The findings of the report titled “Interventions to Prevent Falls in Older Adults” was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) on April 17.

Dr. Alex Krist, the vice chair of the USPSTF and a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, said in order to prevent falls, older adults should not take vitamin D, and added small doses of the vitamin (and calcium) do not prevent fractures in postmenopausal women.

"If healthy people are taking vitamin D solely for these reasons, they should probably stop," he explained. "We know that there are more effective interventions for people concerned about falls, like exercise."

Older adults tend to opt for supplements since vitamin D is not prevalent in typical diets. But research from recent years has found it can be harmful in higher doses for people who do not have a deficiency of the vitamin, with side effects including an increased risk of fracture and kidney stones.

"Research on vitamin D and calcium supplementation has been mixed and, especially when it comes to randomized clinical trials, has been generally disappointing to date," said Dr. JoAnn Manson from Harvard Medical School.

She added these supplements should not be taken by older adults without the recommendation of a health professional.

“Many people are taking high-dose supplements on their own and their doctors may not even be aware of it.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), millions of elderly people (age 65 or more) experience falls every year, but not all of them inform their doctor. Falling once is said to double the chance of falling again, potentially resulting in broken bones, traumatic brain injuries, and other dangerous health effects. To reduce the risk, one can take preventive steps such as wearing comfortable footwear, getting their eyes checked, reviewing diet intake and medication, etc.

But above all, the USPSTF recommendations highlight exercise is the best form of intervention for older adults. As Dr. Manson stated, more people “need to go beyond popping vitamin D and/or calcium pills to prevent fractures and falls.”

The CDC recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity on a weekly basis. Balance activities (such as Tai Chi) and muscle strengthening exercises are considered to be highly beneficial for adults aged 65 or older. For those who are in the right condition, high-intensity interval training may also result in positive changes.