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Strength training more effective than balance exercises for stability

Previous research inconclusive on strength training alone for preventing falls

Falls are one of the most important issues the elderly population faces, as a fall can lead to serious injury and long-term dependency. Physical inactivity, poor balance, and declining muscle strength are all known to increase the chances of falling. Fall-prevention programs usually combine strength and balance training and are effective for reducing the rate and risk of falling; however, studies on strength training alone have been inconclusive. Based on this, a powerful study called a randomized-controlled trial (RCT) was conducted that evaluated the effectiveness of a strength-training program and a traditional balance exercise program for improving balance in the elderly.

Participants randomly divided into one of three groups

A group of adults 65 and older was screened to determine if they were eligible, and 45 fit the criteria. These patients were randomly divided into either the traditional balance exercise (TBE), the progressive resistance strength-training (PRT) or the combination group. The TBE group received four 45-minute weekly sessions of traditional balance exercises for six months. The sessions consisted of eight components that were each intended to improve balance, and the complexity of training progressed based on the ability of each patient. The PRT group followed the same schedule, but sessions lasted for one hour and were focused on training the key muscles of both legs. Strength exercises were performed using weighted sand bags and focused on muscles of the hips, knees, and ankles. The combined group received identical TBE and PRT alternatively, with two days of each per week.

PRT group experiences greater improvements in balance than TBE group

Results showed that all three groups experienced significant improvements in balance up through study's six-month duration. When compared, however, the PRT group showed greater improvements than the TBE group, which was indicated by better overall stability. Participants in both the PRT and combined group scored higher on a test that measured their ability to reach, which shows that these patients experienced increased strength from the interventions. Overall, these findings suggest that a program that strengthens muscles is more effective than straightforward balance exercises alone for improving balance, and may therefore be a better strategy for preventing falls in the elderly.

-As reported in the March '14 issue of the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research

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