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Balance exercises for older people: A study seeks the best ones

November 09, 2011|By Jeannine Stein, Los Angeles Times / For the Booster Shots blog
  • Older people may improve their balance with specific exercises that include training for gait and coordination.
Older people may improve their balance with specific exercises that include… (Uwe Zucchi / AFP/Getty Images )

Maintaining a good sense of balance is important as we get older, since it helps prevent potentially dangerous falls. But what exercises are best to do? A meta-analysis of balance studies finds several that might be key.

A recently released Cochran Library study updates one done in 2007 with 62 added studies for a total of 94 that included 9,917 participants in people ages 60 and older, most of them women living at home.

The various exercise programs studies were broken down into eight categories: gait, coordination and functional tasks; strengthening exercises; three-dimensional exercises such as dance, yoga and tai chi; walking; cycling; computerized balance training that used visual feedback; vibration platform training; and multiple exercise programs that use combinations of these.

"Although the duration and frequency of these exercise programs vary, in general the effective programs ran three times a week for a duration of three months and involved exercises that challenged people's balance while they were standing," said lead author Tracy Howe in a news release. Howe is with the School of Health & Life Sciences at Glasgow Caledonian University in Scotland.

Some of the exercise programs showed slight evidence that they were moderately effective in improving balance: gait, balance, coordination and functional tasks; 3-D exercises; multiple exercises and strengthening workouts. Although walking and cycling may have some health benefits, they didn't score in enhancing stability. Computerized balance programs and vibration plates were also ineffective in improving balance.

Researchers noted that many of the studies were flawed and did not follow up with the participants to see if the effects lasted. They added that more studies are needed to figure out which exercises are truly best to improve balance.

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