ELDERLY people can reduce their risk of falls by having a regular dance at home, scientists have claimed.
They should also go to the shops at least three times a week carrying a bag to improve their balance.
But walking and cycling, although good for overall health, are no good at reducing the number of falls.
Scientists say more needs to be done to identify the activities that can help keep the elderly steady on their feet as the population ages.
They looked at a range of exercises including strengthening, Tai Chi, dance, yoga and general physical exertion such as walking or cycling.
Professor Tracey Howe, of Glasgow Caledonian University, said: “Interestingly, we found that walking and cycling generally do not improve balance, although they have many other beneficial effects.
“What you have to do is combine activities, such as carrying things while walking or dancing which involves using various parts of the body.
“It is well worth the elderly putting their favourite music on at home and having a little jig, either on their own or with someone else.
“But you must do these activities regularly, at least three times a week, because the improvement wears off if you do not keep it up.
“Falls involving the elderly often result in fractures and lead to victims losing their confidence and independence, so as we get older we must do more to retain our balancing skills.”
Prof Howe said good mobility was essential to perform most activities involved in everyday life, as well as many recreational pursuits.
But keeping your balance is a complex task, involving the co-ordination between a person’s muscles and sensors within the nervous system.
In older people many factors such as reduced muscle strength, stiff joints, delayed reaction times and changes in the sensory system all add up to reduce this ability.
A previously published analysis of past research suggested regular exercise helps them improve their balance and reduce the risk of falling.
But after adding new studies to the pool of data, Prof Howe and colleagues say while some useful ideas are emerging, there is still a need for high quality evidence that can determine which types of exercise are the most effective.
They examined a total of 94 studies that involved 9,917 participants and identified a list of different types of exercises that had been tested to improve balance.
Prof Howe, whose findings are published in The Cochrane Library, said: “The information has helped to shed more light on the different approaches to exercise that have been undertaken in studies to date.”
Other programmes looked at exercise that targeted a person’s walking, balance and co-ordination, computerised balance training that uses visual feedback and routines involving vibrating platforms.
Prof Howe said: “Although the duration and frequency of these exercise programmes vary, in general the effective programmes ran three times a week for a duration of three months and involved exercises that challenged people’s balance while they were standing.”
But the researchers found much of the evidence was of poor quality, and it was very hard to combine the results from different pieces of work because of lack of consistency in the measurement instruments used to test balance.
Prof Howe added: “If the research community identified a core group of balance outcomes that were used in all future studies, we would be in a much stronger position to combine individual studies and better understand of which type of exercise is the most effective to improve balance.”
Many voluntary organisations are encouraging older people to take up ballroom dancing as a way of keeping fit – partly because of the popularity of the show Strictly Come Dancing.
Last week saw Scottish singer Lulu, 63, become the fifth person to be voted off the programme. Lulu clashed with her dance partner Brendan Cole and the judges criticised her tango, saying her shoulders were too relaxed.
But the star said she loved her time on the show, saying: “I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”