It might not be warm enough quite yet for outdoor pools or lakes but swimming is an excellent way older adults can stay fit without putting added stress on joints or risking falls; in fact a recent study found that swimming can reduce the likelihood of falling and improve balance.
According to a report by Live Science, an Australian study compared the types of exercise a group of 1,700 men over the age of 70 participated in during a four year period. There were nearly 2,700 falls throughout the duration of the study and the men participated in exercises that included swimming, golfing, doing calisthenics, walking on a treadmill or using a stationary bike and lawn bowling. Only the group of men who were regular swimmers were noted as having a 33 per cent reduction in their chance of experiencing a fall.
Researchers explain that swimmers need to coordinate both upper and lower body movements and create their own base while in land sports, participants are supported by their lower extremities at all times. Developing a strong core helps older adults improve their balance. Swimmers also performed better on postural sway tests that measure standing balance, a key element in recovering stability and preventing a fall. With the evidence gathered, it could be argued that cyclists also develop the stable core muscles to help prevent falls but too few men in the study group cycled to be certain.
Because falls are the leading cause of injury and hospitalization among older adults, fall prevention is an important component of remaining independent and active as we age. According to the National Council on Aging, 1 in 4 Americans over 65 fall each year and every 11 seconds an older adults is treated in the emergency room for a fall; every 19 minutes an older adult dies from a fall.
The take-away? While a brisk daily walk is still highly recommended for all adults, participating in more complex motor activities like dancing, swimming, yoga, Tai Chi, or cycling could offer even more protection against falls in addition to maintaining physical function and overall good health in older age. Those afraid of falling or with a history of falling should consider wearing hip protectors to reduce the chance of injury.