On balance, seniors benefit from group exercise class

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According to researchers group exercise classes given at local community centers can help older adults improve their balance, which in itself could translate into fewer falls and injuries.

Although previous studies have clearly shown that exercise programs aimed at improving older adults' balance and agility may help them avoid falls, whether classes offered in the community can match the results of programs given in a controlled research setting was in question.

The new study found that group classes given in community centers, along with home exercises, did indeed help older adults improve their balance and stability.

Dr. Yvonne Robitaille of the National Public Health Institute of Quebec, in Canada, who led the research, says that though the study did not assess fall risk, it is reasonable to expect that the improvement in balance could help prevent falls.

The study included 177 older adults who underwent balance tests at the outset and again three months later.

In the interim, about half of the men and women attended exercises classes at one of 10 community centers for older adults.

The classes focused on balance training, which included strength conditioning for the legs and exercises based on the Chinese martial art Tai chi.

Participants were also given exercises they could do at home.

After three months, men and women who took the classes showed small gains in balance and mobility, compared with their peers who did not take the classes.

While older adults are generally encouraged to stay active, through both cardiovascular exercise, such as walking, and strength conditioning, exercises that target balance are often overlooked.

But a growing number of studies suggest that activities aimed at balance and agility, along with strengthening exercises, are the best way to lower older adults' risk of falls.

According to Robitaille and her colleagues, the findings show that the programs used in these studies can be successfully moved into the "real world."

The study is published in the American Journal of Public Health, November 2005.

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