Falls become a serious problem for us as we age. Kids and young adults can bounce back up from a tumble, hardly missing a beat. But, for older people, recovery can be slow and consequences grievous. Now, research is showing that a healthy heart can help prevent falls.
In a blog earlier this year, we had a pretty scary statistic. One-third of people over 65 fall each year, two-thirds of those people will have a second fall within six months and 9,500 older American die per year. We want to avoid falls as we age, and taking preventative measures can be a huge help. While we might think of fall-proofing our home or doing exercises to improve balance, heart health might not be a factor we consider.
Researchers, at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Wake Forest Univ., studied the medical data of almost 4,000 adults around the age of 75. They saw that mild heart damage and wall strain were strongly linked to falls. The subjects of the study were “subclinical” meaning that their hearts, while perhaps unhealthy, were not damaged enough to have been diagnosed with a heart problem — either because the problem was very mild or because the damage was progressing very slowly.
Before the study, researchers knew that clogged arteries increased the risk of falls; they just didn’t realize how mild the damage could be and still have an impact. The researchers studied the measures of protein levels, specifically high-sensitivity cardiac troponin T and N-terminal pro-B-type natriuretic peptide. The two proteins are factors that are representative of a person’s heart health. Looking at blood tests, the scientists sorted the results into four groups from lowest to highest, comparing the protein levels in both fallers and the surefooted. When they compared the highest level to the lowest of either protein, they found that people with the highest levels had more than twice the risk of falling.
“[This] research has the potential to inform practitioners considering the risk and benefits of primary prevention treatments in older adults at risk for falls.” Stephen Juraschek, a primary care physician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and study lead author, said.
“To me, the upshot of these findings is to provide yet another reason for a person to be particularly careful about maintaining cardiovascular health and minimizing risk,” Dr. Dalane Kitzman, professor of cardiovascular medicine at Wake Forest Univ., who co-authored the editorial. Myocardial damage can be prevented with exercise. So, getting a workout cannot only aid your heart but preempt a fall. You needn’t start going to the gym every hour of the day, but a daily walk will do you good.
But, don’t rush to your doctor and ask for these blood tests. “The message is not to ask your doctor to be tested for subclinical CVD,” Dr. Kitzman stressed. The point is to take care of your heart health and do what you can to aid it. By helping your heart, you can support many aspects of health — including preventing a fall.