Weight lifting key to keeping seniors on their feet ........

May 18, 2004

Weight lifting key to keeping seniors on their feet

Most 85-year old women who have suffered osteoporotic fractures think that "pumping iron" at the local YMCA is out of the question, but a study by UBC-Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute (VCHRI) researchers shows that such training is safe and beneficial. "Resistance training done twice-weekly for 6 months led to substantial reduction of fall risk factors" said leading author Teresa Liu-Ambrose, a post-doctoral research fellow with the Departments of Psychology and Orthopaedics at UBC. "Falls and fear of falling are major concerns for older people - falls are associated with over $120 million dollars in hospital costs annually in BC alone."

The findings are published in the May issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. This is the first study to examine the effects of three different types of exercise on fall risk in women aged 75-85 years with low bone mass. All previous exercise intervention studies involved younger and/or healthier women. In the study, both resistance (weight) training and a novel agility training program (exercise classes that included games and activities to improve balance) substantially decreased participants' risk of falling by up to 57%. The third exercise program, posture exercises to decrease back pain, decreased fall risk by 20%.

The study also showed dramatic psychological and social benefits. "Even though we did not formally measure, the changes were obvious," says head instructor Connie Waterman, Director of BC Women's Health Centre Osteofit Program. "For example, one participant hadn't been able to bathe herself for 2 years and after our program she was enjoying her bubble baths again," said Liu-Ambrose. Also, many of the participants of the study remain in contact with one another, even almost two years after the cessation of the exercise programs.

The exercise program is now available at South Slope Family YMCA and its principles have been adopted into the province-wide "Osteofit" program (www.osteofit.org). "Resistance and balance training reduce fall risk and our study showed that these types of exercise programs may also improve quality of life in those with osteoporosis or osteopenia," said Liu-Ambrose.

Editors Note: participants are available for interviews.

Contact: Lisa Carver Hilary Thomson Communications, VCHRI Public Affairs, UBC Tel: 604-875-4111 x 61777 Tel: 604-822-2644 or 604-319-7533  

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