If you want to reduce your risk of falls, take these two measures: Get regular exercise and consider taking vitamin D supplements.

That advice comes from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), a federal panel of health experts. The USPSTF has updated its recommendations to prevent falls in people 65 and older who aren’t living in a facility such as an assisted-living residence or a nursing home.

The task force reviewed evidence from studies that investigated what works and what doesn’t for fall prevention. What works, says the USPSTF, are taking vitamin D supplements and engaging in exercise or physical therapy. That's because each of these measures strengthens muscles and improves balance—which helps reduce falls.

While the USPSTF stopped short of saying they were highly certain both actions were significantly beneficial, they expressed a high certainty of some benefit. Their analysis found that older adults who took vitamin D supplements or engaged in exercise or physical therapy reduced their chances of falling by about 13 to 17 percent. Individuals who were vitamin D deficient or already at increased risk for falling—such as people with a history of falls or mobility problems—benefited most.

The USPSTF didn't specify the amount of vitamin D needed to reap its benefits, but most studies' participants took 800 IU a day. The Institute of Medicine recommends 600 IU a day for people ages 51 to 70 and 800 IU for those older.

As for activity guidelines, the USPSTF cited the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which suggests the following for older adults:

  • At least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, like brisk walking or water aerobics, or 75 minutes a week of vigorous activity like running or swimming laps
  • Muscle-strengthening activities, like lifting weights or yoga, twice a week
  • Balance training, like tai chi or balance exercises, three or more days a week for people at increased risk of falling

Ask your doctor about your risk factors for falling and if you should increase your activity or take vitamin D supplements.

Source: Prepared by the Editors of The Johns Hopkins Medical Letter: Health After 50

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at Healthcommunities.com

Published: 18 Jul 2013

Last Modified: 12 Feb 2014