OBJECTIVE: Balance disorders increase with aging and raise the risk of accidental falls in the elderly. It has been suggested that the practice of physical and sporting activities (PSA) efficiently counteracts these age related disorders, reducing the risk of falling significantly. METHODS: This study, principally based on a period during which the subjects were engaged in PSA, included 65 healthy subjects, aged over 60, who were living at home. Three series of posturographic tests (static, dynamic with a single and fast upward tilt, and dynamic with slow sinusoidal oscillations) analysing the centre of foot pressure displacements or electromyographic responses were conducted to determine the effects of PSA practice on balance control. RESULTS: The major variables of postural control were best in subjects who had always practised PSA (AA group). Those who did not take part in PSA at all (II group) had the worst postural performances, whatever the test. Subjects having lately begun PSA practice (IA group) had good postural performances, close to those of the AA group, whereas the subjects who had stopped the practice of PSA at an early age (AI group) did not perform as well. Overall, the postural control in the group studied decreased in the order AA > IA > AI > II. CONCLUSIONS: The period during which PSA are practised seems to be of major importance, having a positive bearing on postural control. It seems that recent periods of practice have greater beneficial effects on the subject's postural stability than PSA practice only at an early age. These data are compatible with the fact that PSA are extremely useful for elderly people even if it has not been a lifelong habit.
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