Neither worked to cut odds for any type of falls, but exercise may help prevent injury if a tumble occurs
The study suggests that “exercise seemed to be more effective in reducing injurious falls in this age group,” Uusi-Rasi said, “with or without vitamin D.”
By contrast, vitamin D supplements were not linked to a lower risk for serious injury, whether taken alone or in combination with exercise. Vitamin D supplements did help maintain, or even slightly increase bone density in certain areas, according to the study.
“Exercise improves functionality,” said Uusi-Rasi, who added that the women who exercised showed improvements not only in muscle strength and power, but also in mobility and balance. Such improvements, she theorized, might generally enable older women to fall in a safer way, though her team did not specifically explore that question.
Although the study didn’t include male participants, Uusi-Rasi said exercise is probably equally protective for men. She noted that earlier research has suggested that exercise has a similar beneficial impact across gender.
In an accompanying editorial, Dr. Erin LeBlanc, an investigator with the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research in Portland, Ore., cautioned that the conclusions about vitamin D may not apply to all seniors, given that the Finnish pool of subjects were all white females who started the study with optimal vitamin D levels.
“[It’s] surprising because previous studies have found that vitamin D can prevent falling,” LeBlanc said. “But the studies have all been slightly different, and these differences could explain the different findings.” On that score, she noted that it’s possible that the specific vitamin D dosage offered to the Finnish group was somewhat lower than ideal.
Regardless, LeBlanc argued that it’s too soon to rule out vitamin D as a fall preventative, given that it — and exercise — are both inexpensive and low-risk, and have previously been associated with fostering greater muscle strength and balance.