THURSDAY, June 10, 2010 (HealthDay News) -- Regular exercise reduces the risk of falls in both young and old, a new study shows.
Falls are a major hazard in the United States, with about 19,000 people dying from them each year and an estimated 8 million seeking treatment in emergency rooms annually.
The protective effect of exercise was documented by University of Pittsburgh researchers, who analyzed data from people taking part in the Aerobics Center Longitudinal Study from 1970 to 1989 and in a follow-up survey conducted in 1990. The survey asked whether they had fallen within the previous year and, if so, what they were doing when they fell.
Participants also took a treadmill test and answered questions about how many minutes of aerobic exercise they got each week.
Twenty percent of the 10,615 participants, aged 20 to 87, reported falling in the previous year. Of those, 15 percent fell while walking.
In general, people need about two hours of exercise a week to reduce the risk of falls, the researchers found.
Women were 2.8 times more likely than men to fall while walking, but the women's fitness levels appeared to make little difference. Fitness levels in men were important, however: Men with low fitness levels were 2.2 times more likely to fall than men with high fitness levels.
"We were surprised to find that fitness and physical activity seem to have a stronger relationship with walking-related falls in men compared with women," lead author Dr. Kristin Mertz, in the epidemiology department at the University of Pittsburgh, said in a Center for the Advancement of Health news release.
Although falls are the leading cause of injuries among people aged 65 or older, researchers also found that young people topple over as much as seniors.
"We were not surprised that people 65 and older were no more likely to report falling than younger people, given that younger people are more likely to engage in more risky activities, such as standing on ladders, running and playing sports," Mertz said.
The study appears online and in the July print issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons offer guidelines for preventing falls.