The best exercise programs benefit the elderly

By Megan Rauscher

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Older adults who regularly take part in top-rated, low-cost physical activity programs offered by their local senior center or YMCA can see noticeable improvement in physical functioning and lower their risk of becoming disabled, research shows.

“Older adults can benefit greatly from these programs,” Susan L. Hughes told Reuters Health.

Hughes, co-director at the Center for Research on Health and Aging, Institute for Health Research and Policy, Chicago, and colleagues studied the impact of participating in flexibility, aerobic and strength training exercise classes provided by community organizations that were designated “best-practice” providers in a national competition conducted by the Center for Healthy Aging of the National Council on Aging.

“These sites were judged to be best practice because they had a long history of providing service to substantial numbers of participants, hired nationally Certified Exercise Instructors, provided ongoing training to them, and provided multiple component programs,” Hughes noted.

In a study published in the American Journal of Public Health, a total of 544 adults aged 50 years or older who were not currently engaged in a regular program of exercise were randomly assigned to participate in one of the programs (the “treatment” group) or to a comparison “control” group that did not participate.

At 5 and 10 months, treatment group participants showed significant improvements (vs controls) on several outcomes including confidence in their ability to continue to exercise over time and in the face of barriers, increased upper and lower extremity strength based on performance tests, and increased participation in total physical activity.

“Increased lower extremity strength was a particularly important finding because lower extremity weakness is a risk factor for future disability and nursing home admission,” Hughes noted.

“Our findings indicate that the low-cost health promotion programs should be expanded with public funding from programs like the Administration on Aging, and that health promotion for older adults should be included in the national health care reform agenda that is now focusing on prevention,” Hughes concluded.

SOURCE: American Journal of Public Health, January 2009.

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