NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – A small study suggests that obese adults could improve their balance by shedding pounds and boosting their muscle strength — with weight loss being especially effective.

The findings, reported in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, are important because falls are a particular problem for obese adults.

Studies suggest that obese people fall nearly twice as often as their thinner counterparts, and that falls are the most common cause of injury among obese adults.

For the current study, nine young obese men underwent “fall” tests that estimated the effects of weight loss and strength gains on balance. During the test, the men were held by a harness in a forward- leaning position, at various angles. The harness was then released to see how well participants could recover their balance without taking a step.

Using computer simulations, the researchers next estimated how much the men’s balance would be improved with weight loss or strength gains. They found that both tactics — but weight loss, in particular — made the study participants steadier on their feet.

The findings suggest that better balance could be one more benefit of shedding excess pounds, study co-author Dr. Michael L. Madigan, of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, told Reuters Health.

He added, however, that this was a small, preliminary study, and more research is needed.

Among the remaining questions is whether real-world weight loss and strength training prevents real-world falls — and whether the results would be the same for older adults, who are at greatest risk of fall- related injuries.

SOURCE: Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, July 2009.