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Exercising to Music Reduces Falls, Improves Balance in Elderly


Problems with balance and a high incidence of falls are common among the elderly. A new study, however, shows that exercising to music can improve balance and gait in older adults, which results in a reduced number of falls and fractures.

Exercising to music makes fall reduction fun

Because most of the falls experienced by the elderly occur when they are walking, researchers at University Hospitals and Faculty of Medicine of Geneva, Switzerland, tested a music-based exercise program among community-dwelling older adults to see if it would reduce their risk of falls and improve gait and balance. A total of 134 adults older than 65 (average age, 75.5 years) participated in the study.

The adults were randomly assigned to either a music-based exercise program or a control group. During the first six months, 66 adults in the intervention program participated in a one-hour instructor-led exercise program each week that challenged the body’s balance control mechanisms. The exercises included walking in time to music and responding to changes in rhythm, and the movements got increasingly more difficult over time.

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During the second six months of the study, the 68 adults in the control group participated in the same exercise class, while the adults in the first group returned to their normal exercise activities.

At the end of both six-month periods, adults in the first group performed better on balance and functional tests than adults in the control group. There were 24 falls (rate of falls, 0.7 per person per year) in the first group and 54 falls (rate of falls, 1.6 per person per year) in the control group. Adults in the control group experienced improvements similar to those in the first group during the second six-month period when they participated in the exercise program. Adults in the first group also improved their walking speed and stride length compared with the controls.

Falls are the leading cause of injury death among adults age 65 and older, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). One-third of adults in this age group fall each year, and 2.1 million nonfatal fall injuries were treated in emergency departments among the elderly in 2008. Falls can result in hip fractures, head traumas, and increase the risk of early death.

The good news is that falls among the elderly are largely preventable, and the results of this latest study provide a suggested strategy. The authors concluded that elderly adults who participate in “music-based multitask exercise classes once a week over a 6-month period can improve gait performance” as well as “improve balance, and reduce both the rate of falls and the risk of falling.”

Archives of Internal Medicine, published online Nov. 22, 2010; doi: 10.1001/archinternmed.2010.446
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention