As We Age, Swimming May Be the Best Exercise

Falling down and getting hurt is a big problem for older adults, and researchers think that physical activity may lower people’s risk of falls. But now, a new study suggests that the only type of exercise that lowers older adults’ risk of falls is swimming.

Researchers in Australia looked at about 1,700 men age 70 and older, and compared the types of exercise they did with their likelihood of experiencing a fall over a four-year period. There were nearly 2,700 falls during the study.

The 88 men in the study who swam were 33 percent less likely to fall compared with all other men in the study. In contrast, men who did other forms of exercise — including golfing, doing calisthenics, working out on treadmills or stationary bikes — were no less likely to fall, the researchers found.

“Unlike [with] land-based sports, swimmers are required to create their own base of support and, at the same time, to produce a coordinated movement of both upper and lower extremities,” said study author Dafna Merom, an associate professor of physical activity and health at the University of Western Sydney.

The researchers also found that the swimmers did better on a test of “postural sway,” compared with the average of all men in the study. In this test of standing balance, a person is asked to stand as still as possible for 30 seconds, and researchers measure how much his or her body moves at the waist level.