When it comes to exercise for older adults, the evidence is clear about two things. Firstly, one in three older adults will experience a fall, and secondly, simple exercise can reduce the risk of a fall but also support the immediate and long-term recovery from a fall. In fact, one study showed a 50% reduction in falls over a year-long period simply due to an hour a week’s worth of exercise to music.
Yet there is a worrying trend for levels of physical activity to peak in midlife and then decline past the age of 50; a study published last month by Age UK found that fewer than half of over 55s are doing the recommended 2.5 hours of exercise per week, with one in eight not doing any exercise at all.
It is estimated that 7,000 lives could be saved in the over 65s each year if widespread exercise programmes were implemented to prevent hip fractures from falls.
Britain has one of the highest rates of hip fracture cases in Europe (89,000 cases), most of which are sustained during falls. A joined-up approach to care between the NHS and social care, emergency services and GPs could prevent 30% of falls, according to a report by the NHS Confederation published earlier this year.
As part of our medical engagement strategy, the FIA and its members are working with healthcare professionals to deliver exercise-focused falls prevention programmes up and down the country, and we support this call for an integrated approach.
The introduction of CCGs (Clinical Commissioning Groups), which bring significant changes to local commissioning of primary care, will offer an opportunity for exercise providers offering referral schemes and falls prevention courses to work more closely with healthcare providers in their local communities.
I encourage both policymakers and physical activity providers to take notice of the evidence, and develop programmes tailored to the needs of older adults.
Case study: DC Leisure
FIA members DC Leisure, who manage leisure centres in partnership with local authorities across the UK, are successfully delivering a number of falls prevention schemes in partnership with local primary care trusts (PCTs).
Halstead Leisure Centre offers a 26-week postural stability programme for people post-operative or with mobility issues, with a follow-on programme available for those who complete it. The course originated from DC Leisure approaching the local PCT who was running a programme in a village hall and proposing to transfer the session to the leisure centre, offering the group a much-improved facility and increased social opportunities.
Referrals come from physiotherapists, social services, GPs, hospitals and self-referrals. The popularity of the follow-on course has led to an average of an additional 800 visits a year from users who would not normally visit a leisure centre.
Wyre Forest Glades
DC Leisure instructors deliver a 37-week course of two-hour sessions – Ready, Steady, Go – in partnership with NHS Worcestershire and Wyre Forest District Council. Four courses have been run to date.
In partnership with Wiltshire NHS and Age UK, DC Leisure delivers an ABACUS programme (Agility, Balance, Aerobic Capacity, Co-ordination, Usefulness and Strength) across seven classes in the area. The class lasts 45 minutes and is chair-based, aimed at those who have a history of falls, fear falling, feel unstable or have low bone density or a family history of osteoporotic fractures.
Ferndown Leisure Centre has applied for funding from the NHS to deliver a falls prevention programme and exercise after stroke, which will complement their current GP referral scheme of gym-based exercise, aqua therapy, chair aerobics, COPD and referral circuits.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Fitness Professionals Ltd or Virtual Magazine. Consult a qualified health or fitness professional before making changes to your diet or exercise.