This story parrots the fundamental error of a journal news release about a trial of an exercise program intended to improve the walking ability and reduce falls among older people. The release and this story claim that “exercising to piano music” appears to reduce falls, but the trial did not actually test that hypothesis. The trial randomized participants to either a series of exercise classes or to continuing their usual activities, so all it can say is that class participation appeared to offer benefits. As the researchers wrote in their journal article, they could “only speculate on the factors responsible.”
On a side note, the New York Times may want to claim credit for a huge scoop on reporting about the potential benefits of this type of exercising to music. It published a story on these classes almost 97 years ago.
Regurgitating a news release violates the fundamental principles of journalism. It also leads to the second major flaw seen in this report: repeating the misinterpretation of research committed by news release writers.
The story does not mention costs. A web search of programs offered in the U.S. show prices ranging from a $200-1000 for a series of sessions which may last several months and include music instruction.
This story fails this criterion because it reports that the trial showed benefits of exercising to piano music, when in fact the trial was not capable of showing that music or any other specific feature of the classes could claim credit for the lower rate of falls and improved walking technique that was observed.
The story does include some of the specific information expected to meet this criterion, including the number of falls in each group of participants, although it gives readers only vague descriptions of “significant improvements in balance and overall function” and “increased their usual walking speed and stride length and improved their overall manner of walking” without providing any specific numbers.
The story does not mention harms.
While the researchers reported that there were no adverse events during the trial, it is possible that exercise classes could lead to falls or sports injuries, so the story should have addressed this point.
The story commits a fundamental error on this criterion.
The trial did not actually test the effects of piano music. It merely showed that elderly people who took a series of classes fared better than those who did nothing. This test could not shed any light on whether any specific components of the program, such as music, had any specific effect, since there was no comparison to exercise or other classes that did not have these features.
The body of the story does give a brief description of the trial, telling readers that 134 older adults living in a senior citizen community were randomized to attend a series of exercise classes or simply go about their normal activities for six months and then taking the classes. Readers are left to figure out for themselves that this study design does not include any direct comparison of any of the components of the classes, so no claims can be made about whether music made any difference. Indeed, the researchers clearly pointed out that “We can only speculate on the factors responsible for the detected improvements in dual-task gait variability.” Readers should have been alerted to this and other limitations of this trial.
There was no disease mongering in the story. Falls are indeed a serious hazard for older people.
There is neither an independent source nor any discussion of potential conflicts of interest.
The story does not put this trial in any context with the existing evidence on other types of physical activity or other methods of reducing the risk of falls by older people.
The story does not report that this trial tested a specific type of exercise program known as Jaques-Dalcroze eurhythmics, so readers have no way of finding out whether it is available to them.
The story does not include any claims of novelty of this approach.
Another New York Times article did call attention to this form of exercise with the headline: “Dalcroze Eurhythmics Have Come to New York.” The article was published on January 25, 1914. There is indeed nothing new about the method of exercise.
This story appears to be based on a news release issued by the Archives of Internal Medicine. The only direct quote in the story is identical to one featured in the news release. The news release introduces the fundamental misunderstanding of the trial design that is repeated in the news report.
Archives of Internal Medicine News Release:
Exercising to Piano Music Appears to Help Reduce Falls Among Older Adults