That's the conclusion from a review of 54 studies that included data from more than 26,000 seniors. Investigators from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force analyzed the studies in an effort to determine the best recommendations primary care physicians could make to patients age 65 and older in order to prevent falls. The injuries from these accidents are the greatest cause of death, disability and loss of independence among seniors. The incidence of falls has been rising in recent years, due in part to the increasing number of older adults in the population. The review found that taking vitamin D, with or without calcium, cut the risk of falling by an average of 17 percent. In half of the studies reviewed, the daily doses of vitamin D were greater than 800 international units. The researchers also found that exercise reduced the risk of falls by 13 percent. This benefit was seen whether the activity involved was designed to improve balance, strength and flexibility or was weight training or aerobic exercise such as walking. The review was published in the Dec. 21, 2010 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.
My take? As you may know, I recommend that everyone take 2,000 IU of vitamin D daily, not only because it helps strengthen bones, which may prevent or slow the progression of osteoporosis, but also because it helps boost the immune system and protects against a number of serious diseases. Exercise is also key to maintaining optimum health in general, and to preventing falls in particular. In addition to aerobic activity, resistance training and exercises to increase flexibility and balance, I also highly recommend tai chi, a gentle form of movement training that has been shown to reduce risk of injury from falls among seniors.