Self-directed walking programmes do not reduce incidence of falls in older patients, though there were other benefits from increased physical exercise, according to researchers.
The results of a trial in Australia found that a self-directed walking programme designed for sedentary older people did not reduce incidence of falls.
The “easy steps” trial investigated the impact of a 48-week walking programme in older people in the city of Sydney.
The study, published online in the journal Age and Ageing, randomised 386 physically inactive, community-dwelling people aged 65 or over into an intervention or control group.
“We need to reconsider how walking is incorporated into falls prevention guidelines”
The intervention group received a self-directed, 48-week walking programme that involved three mailed printed manuals and telephone coaching. The control group received health information that was unrelated to falls.
Monthly fall calendars were used to monitor falls over 48 weeks. Secondary outcomes were self-reported, and they included information on quality of life, exercise levels, and walking levels.
The study authors found no significant difference in fall rates between the intervention group and the control group, and no significant differences in the proportion of fallers or recurrent fallers.
A sub-sample of 178 participants took part in a home visit scheme that measured mobility levels, choice step reaction time, and knee extension strength.
No evidence was found of the walking programme having an impact on choice step reaction time or knee extension strength, but mobility scores were significantly improved.
Although the programme did not reduce falls in older people, it did increase walking behaviour and physical activity levels, noted the researchers.
Lead study author Dr Alexander Voukelatos said: “These results show that walking is unlikely to have an effect on falls.
“We need to reconsider how walking is incorporated into falls prevention guidelines, given that it is currently considered by a majority of older people to be a good way to prevent falls,” he said.
He added that the programme had no impact on balance, which may explain why it was “ineffective with respect to falls”.
“However, walking may be a useful adjunct to increase physical activity for older people, particularly for those under the age of 75,” he said.