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Study finds evidence of yoga reducing frequency of falls

A new study has found evidence of yoga classes reducing the frequency of falls, a public health issue with major impacts in Wisconsin.

This UW-Madison study looked at older adults taking yoga in western Wisconsin, and found that the number of reported falls dropped by nearly 50 percent in the six months after classes started compared to the six months before they began.

“Yoga makes you have a strong core,” says Anne Bachner, a member of the study’s community advisory board. “So when moving around in your daily life, you are not just flapping around. You are stable, in control.”

According to a 2010 report from the state Department of Health Services and the Medical College of Wisconsin’s Injury Research Center, falls contribute to a substantial number of nursing home admissions, emergency department visits, inpatient hospitalizations and deaths each year.

Most fall-related deaths and inpatient hospitalizations involve people 65 or older -- 87 percent and 70 percent, respectively. But the report notes that falls are the top cause of injury-related emergency department visits for all ages.

About 40 percent of individuals admitted to nursing homes in Wisconsin had a fall in the 30 days prior, and hospitalizations and emergency department visits due to falls result in $800 million in medical costs each year in Wisconsin.

The UW-Madison study was led by Irene Hamrick, a professor of family medicine at the university.

The 38 participants went to yoga classes twice a week for eight weeks in Dodgeville, Platteville and Monroe. All were instructed to do five minutes of meditation outside of class, while only half were randomly assigned to add in 10 minutes of yoga to the at-home meditation. The average participant was 70 years old.

In the six months leading up to the classes, 15 participants reported 27 falls. In the six months after classes started, 13 participants reported 14 falls. Though the study authors expected fewer falls in the half assigned extra yoga time, that did not occur. Both groups had equal and significant reduction in falls, according to Hamrick.

“It might be that this does not take that much practice,” she said. “Once you learn it, it’s yours to keep.”

Because of the way the study was designed, the effects of meditation alone were not isolated.

“It could be worth looking into, comparing meditation alone to yoga or balance exercises, but it’s hard to know what would be the practical impact,” Hamrick added. “Meditation is an integral part of yoga.”

A longer study -- up to 16 weeks -- is currently being considered. The results of this study were published online in Complementary Therapies in Medicine.

--By Alex Moe


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