Falls are the most common injury among older adults. Studies find that exercises designed to improve balance can help seniors reduce the risk.
Researchers at the University of Michigan Health System and the Veterans Affairs Ann Arbor Healthcare System compared two techniques already proven to improve balance among the elderly. One is tai chi, an ancient Chinese practice involving slow fluid movements.
The other, says senior author Neil Alexander, is a method called Combined Balance and Stepping Training or CBST. "That involves doing two tasks at once, such as carrying an object while walking or such as stepping over an obstacle."
Adults are trained to improve both the speed and length of their step.
The study divided participants into tai chi and CBST classes. Alexander says after attending 3 classes a week for 10-weeks, those doing CBST showed a 5 to 10 percent edge in balance, stepping and walking tasks over the tai chi group. "I consider this a modest effect, but nevertheless an important one."
Alexander says while both techniques improve mobility and balance, it's the pace and stepping practice that give CBST an added advantage. "In a near fall situation you need to respond quickly and with a long enough step to keep you upright."
Alexander hopes the study can help influence the design of an exercise program that can reduce the risk of falls. He advises consulting with your doctor before embarking on any new exercise program.
The study is published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.