Exercise programs for older adults can improve physical capacity and quality of life. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends a well-rounded exercise program for older adults including strength, cardiovascular, flexibility, and balance activities. Thera-Band® products have been successfully used in many published studies of older adult exercise programs. Despite the wealth of evidence demonstrating the benefit and safety of exercises for older adults, physical inactivity levels remain high in that population.
Several barriers to increasing physical activity in older adults have been identified including a lack of toolkits for healthcare providers to provide evidence-based physical activity programs. The First Step to Active Health® exercise program was developed as a ‘best practice’ exercise program by therapists, physicians and researchers to address these barriers and increase physical activity levels in sedentary older adults.
Pamela Toto, PhD, OT and fellow researchers at the University of Pittsburgh investigated the effectiveness of the First Step to Active Health program in 15 community-dwelling older adults (over 60 years old) from a low-income households in Pittsburgh.
They used the EASY tool to screen individuals who might be at risk for adverse events during exercise. The researchers chose the First Step to Active Health intervention “because of its low-cost design, incorporation of self-efficacy-enhancing activities, and inclusion of self-assessment and goal-setting features linking the exercise program to ADL participation.”
The 10-week program included group sessions in the participant’s apartment building and a home exercise program component. Each participant received a First Step to Active Health kit including a Thera-Band elastic resistance band. The exercise protocol included 5 to 10 minutes of cardiovascular warm-up, 11 upper body and lower body strengthening exercises with a Thera-Band elastic resistance band, 6 balance training exercises using a chair for support, and 8 flexibility exercises as cool-down. Participants increased their sets and repetitions and resistance as the program progressed.
Group sessions included educational topics and supervised exercise, which was reinforced with the written instructions in the First Step to Active Health kit at home. Educational topics included strategies for increasing self-efficacy.
79% of the participants completed the 10-week program and the adherence rate for the group program was 90%. The participants significantly improved their ADL measures and functional fitness on all 6 component of the Senior Fitness Test. While there was no control group and a small homogenous sample for this pilot study, the results of this study are promising for future research.
The researchers concluded that the First Step to Active Health program can be as effective as high-intensity exercise protocols and high-cost exercise equipment. They stated, “Our study indicates that gains in physical performance can also be achieved with low-cost equipment and an exercise program of a lower intensity, which may be more acceptable and sustainable in this population.
REFERENCE: Toto PE, et al. Outcomes of a multicomponent physical activity program for sedentary, community-dwelling older adults.J Aging Phys Act. 2012 Jul;20(3):363-78. Epub 2011 Dec 20.
Disclosure: Thera-Band Academy provided the First Step kits used in this study.