Medical Research: What are the main findings of the study?
Dr. Merom: In a cohort of 1667 older Australian men (mean age 76.8 years) data on incident falls were collected every four months by telephone interview. We compared the rate of falling over 48 months of follow-up of men who participated in golf, Calisthenics, lawn balls, aerobic machines and swimming. We found that only swimming was associated with 33% reduction in falls occurrence. We also found that swimmers performed better on balance tests in our baseline measurements. In particular on the postural stability test and for those whose leisure activity was only swimming, apart from walking and other lifestyle activities.
Medical Research: What was most surprising about the results?
Dr. Merom: The large protecting effect of swimming! It is similar to the effect of exercise program that specifically tailored to improve balance in older adults.
Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?
Dr. Merom: I think at this stage it is too early to advise clinicians and patients, except that swimming is an excellent safe sport that confers cardiovascular benefits and strengthens all body muscles. This is because the finding in relation to falls-protection is based on observational study (i.e., it is not an experimental design). In this respect our findings could be also explained by selection processes; for example men with a genetic predisposition to good postural control/ or leg force inclined towards life-long participation in this sport rather that this sport protected them from falling by improving their postural control. Clinicians and patients need higher quality of evidence.