The Cooper Institute

Founded in 1970 by the "Father of Aerobics"
Kenneth H. Cooper MD, MPH


Exercise: Why Risk the Injury?

Written by
Erica Howard, MS
Posted in
Move more

Monday, May 30, 2011

Injury is a realistic concern. Especially for individuals who may be uncertain about becoming more physically active. Concerns may be from a fear of falling, especially as we progress in age. Injuries are not biased by age, gender, or race. Falls are the most common cause of injuries for children and older adults.1 In 2005, falls among older adults cost the United States an estimated 23.6 billion dollars.2 Also, falls are the leading cause of non-fatal injuries for children 0-19.2 So you might ask, “Why risk it”?

Fear of injury is not a good reason to participate in a non-active lifestyle. Although the primary cause of injury for older adults are falls, research by Robertson et. al found promising information. The research compared older individuals who did a home exercise program and those that did not. The home exercise program included strength training, balance retraining, and a walking plan. Those in the exercise program actually had 35% fewer falls. They also had a lower chance of falling compared to the non-active group.

In addition to actual falls, the non-active group had an increase in their fear of falling. The active groups fear of falling did not increase from what was reported at the beginning of the study. This was also seen in a study with a group of younger individuals. A study by Carlson et. al looked at data from a nationally representative group of 18-65+ year olds. It found that active individuals had a 17%-19% lower chance of injury during non-sport or non-leisure time activities than those who were inactive.3

Fitness increases skill-related factors. Skill-related factors include neuromuscular control, balance, and coordination. These characteristics increase quality of performance. They are also very important in preventing functional limitations.4 Health related physical fitness is instrumental in decreasing disease and all-cause death.4,5 Research shows that as fitness increases, many of the leading causes of death, such as cardiovascular disease, stroke, and diabetes decrease.4 Adding exercise to our daily routine will improve our over-all health. Also, exercise will help decrease the economical burden of diseases resulting from inactive lifestyles. Exercise has been associated with decreasing complications that may result from diabetes.6 It also lowers diseases that cost the United States $174 billion dollars in 2007.2 Physical activity helps prevent obesity as well, a risk factor that was estimated to cost $147 billion dollars in 2008.2

What type of activity is safest?
Choosing age appropriate activities may help decrease the chances of injury during leisure time. Any injuries that may occur during physical activity can be kept to a minimum by taking precautions. Lower impact, non contact activities have a lower rate of injury. For example, walkers reported 25% fewer injuries than runners in the Cooper Clinic Longitudinal Study.7 Similar results were seen by Powell et. al who observed injury rates as low as 0.9% in cycling and 2.4% in weight lifting.8 The benefits of habitual habit in physical activity outweigh the potential risks that are involved.4

What other concerns about starting an exercise program have you or others you’ve known had about starting an exercise program? And how did you overcome them? Share your experience on our Facebook page.

1Robertson, Clare, John Campbell, Melinda Gardner, and Nancy Devlin. "Preventing Injuries in Older People by Preventing FAlls: A Meta-Analysis of Individual-Level Data." Journal of American Geriatrics Society (2002): 905-11. 

2"Cost of Fall Injuries in Older Persons in the United States, 2005." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention., 10 Feb. 2011. Web. 10 May 2011. <>.

3"Protect the Ones You Love: Falls." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention., 27 July 2009. Web. 10 May 2011. <>.
Carlson, S., J. Hootman, K. Powell, C. Macera, G. Heath, J. Gilchrist, C. Kimseyjr, and H. Kohliii. "Self-reported Injury and Physical Activity Levels: United States 2000 to 2002." Annuals of Epidemiology 16.9 (2006): 712-19.

4Thompson, Walter R., Neil F. Gordon, and Linda S. Pescatello. ACSM's Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2010. 

5Blair, Steven, Harold Kohl III, Ralph Paffenbarger Jr, Debra Clark, Kenneth H. Cooper, and Larry W. Gibbons. "Physical Fitness and All-Cause Mortality." JAMA 262.17 (1989): 2395-401. 

6Church, Tim. "Exercise in Obesity, Metabolic Syndrome, and Diabetes." Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases (2011): 412-18. 

7Colbert, Lisa H., Jennifer M. Hootman, and Carol A. Macera. "Physical Activity-Related Injuries in Walkers and Runners in the Aerobics Center Longitudinal Study." Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine 10.4 (2000): 259-63. 

8Powell, Heath. “Injury rates from Walking, gardening, weightlifting, outdoor cycling, and aerobics.” Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise(1998): 1246-1249.