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Exercise may not help older people fall less, study finds

Joining a regular exercise program may help older people move better, but it doesn't necessarily mean they are more steady on their feet or will lose their fear of falling, according to a German study.

"We can't take it for granted that if we improve on the physical performance that it will translate over to the psychological dimension," said Ellen Freiberger, lead author of the study and a sports medicine and gerontology researcher at Friedrich-Alexander-Universitat Erlangen-Nurnberg in Germany.

For the study, which appeared in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, Freiberger and her colleagues set out to compare different types of exercise and what impact, if any, they had on physical performance, falls and the fear of falling among older people.

The researchers recruited 280 people over age 70 who were still living independently in Erlangen, Germany. Between 2003 and 2006, the participants were randomly assigned to one of four groups and followed for the two years.

Of the four groups, one did not exercise at all. The other three used strength and balance exercises, but two also included either endurance exercises, which researchers used to gauge the participants' fitness, or an education program to measure their fear of falling.

The final group's regimen included elements of an educational program designed to reduce the fear of falling, and the people did mental exercises to target traits such as concentration and short-term memory.

Everyone in the study's exercise groups attended two one-hour sessions per week for 16 weeks. Each session had fewer than 15 people in it.

At the end, there was no difference between the four groups in the scores that tracked falls or the fear of falls, and only a slight improvement in the time it took to walk six meters.
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