Swimming Associated With Fewer Falls In Older Men

Associate Professor Dafna Merom Ph.D Physical Activity and Health University of Western Sydney Penrith NSW AustraliaMedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Associate Professor Dafna Merom Ph.D
Physical Activity and Health
University of Western Sydney
Penrith NSW Australia


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.

Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Dr. Merom: I would recommend that researchers who have access to cohort with prospective assessments of incident falls and more detailed information on leisure –time physical activity would conduct similar investigation to see if results are consistent across different cohorts. Because a very small proportion of older adults engage in any sport, apart from walking, a bigger sample would be require. It  is highly recommended to gain more information on each activity such as how long participants engaged in each sport (in years) and how much they do each week or month. There are many aspects of participation that needs to be explored to further corroborate our findings. Ideally, I would recommend conducting an experimental trial where people would be randomised to swimming intervention or “activity as usual” and to compare whether the intervention reduced significantly incident falls compared to usual activity.


Swimming and Other Sporting Activities and the Rate of Falls in Older Men: Longitudinal Findings From the Concord Health and Ageing in Men Project
Dafna Merom, Fiona F. Stanaway, David J. Handelsman, Louise M. Waite, Markus J. Seibel, Fiona M. Blyth, Vasi Naganathan, and Robert G. Cumming

Am. J. Epidemiol. first published online September 5, 2014 doi:10.1093/aje/kwu199




Last Updated on September 30, 2014 by Marie Benz MD FAAD