Physically active U.S. veterans are more likely to fall but less likely to get hurt when they do, compared with inactive older adults who didn't serve in the military, a new study finds.
Researchers analyzed 2006-2015 data from nearly 12,000 veterans and nearly 37,000 others. Compared to non-veterans, vets had 11% more falls that didn't result in injuries, but 28% fewer falls that did, the study revealed.
The risk of falls increased more with age for vets than for others, but physical activity was more protective against non-injury falls for veterans, according to the study published recently in the Journal of Applied Gerontology.
"The inference is that being active puts you at more risk for a fall, but if you are more active/in shape, the fall is more likely to be a minor one and not a serious one resulting in injury," said study author Geoffrey Hoffman, an assistant professor of nursing at the University of Michigan.
"A worthwhile trade-off, arguably," he said in a university news release.
Hoffman said there's not enough data to state conclusively if the findings apply to all active men or just to vets, who are more likely to be active than non-veterans.
This type of research is important because of the need to identify a suitable balance between activity and fall risk as people age, he said.
"Personally, I'd rather not be the older adult who feels it's best to always sit on my couch because I'm too afraid of having a fall, so that when I do fall, it's really serious," Hoffman said.
Inactivity poses both physical and mental health risks for older adults, including diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, social isolation and depression.
"In an ideal world, we'd hope that you could get the benefits of being active, such as well-being, fitness and happiness, while avoiding all risk and having no falls," Hoffman said.
It could be that when a person is active, a fall isn't as risky because that person is in better shape, even when being more active marginally increases the risk of a nonserious spill, he suggested.
"That's important, I think," Hoffman said. "A good trade-off can be made: more activity and independence at the cost of some more minor falls. It's up to each older individual with the input of family caregivers to weigh those trade-offs."
The U.S. National Institute on Aging has more about exercise and physical activity.