Aged care residents are sedentary for prolonged periods of time and only participate in physical activity for short bouts, new research finds.

The Curtin University research evaluated the physical activity levels and sedentary behaviours of independently mobile adults living in residential aged care.

The study published in the Australasian Journal on Ageing involved 28 residents from three care units at one facility in Western Australia, who wore an accelerometer to track their activity during waking hours over five days.

Residents’ activity levels were categorised research as:

  • low intensity, such as incidental walking
  • light intensity, such as slow walking and light domestic duties
  • moderate-to-vigorous activity.

The research found residents spent 85 per cent of the time sedentary, 12 per cent participating in low-intensity activities, two per cent in light intensity and one per cent in moderate-to-vigorous activity.

Residents’ physical activity at any level occurred in bouts of less than 10 minutes, according to the findings.

Lead researcher Dr Robyn Fary said residents were inactive for too long.

Dr Robyn Fary

“It is the lengthy periods of time that residents spend sitting that is of great concern,” Dr Fary told Australian Ageing Agenda.

She said high sedentary levels may be due to resident frailty and a fear of falling.

“If you are unsteady on your feet and nervous about falling, then it is much easier to stay seated to avoid the fear,” said Dr Fary, a senior lecturer in physiotherapy at Curtin University.

Chronic muscle or joint problems are among other conditions that could be affecting residents’ moving, she said.

She said another factor could be an inadequate amount of staff to encourage, facilitate and support residents’ physical activities.

Dr Fary said prolonged sedentary behaviour is an independent risk factor of poor health and wellbeing.

“Someone may be getting the recommended level of physical activity every day but if they are sedentary for the rest of the time, that is not good for their health,” she said.

Participating in light intensity activities can improve resident health outcomes, Dr Fary said.

“Regular movement also breaks up sedentary time, which decreases the risk of heart and lung disease obesity associated with prolonged sitting,” she said.

Dr Fary said there needed to be a change in perceptions about what counted as physical activity for residents.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean spending a block of time doing exercise, although tailored exercise programs where people do stretches and improve their muscle strength are good,” she said.

Dr Fary recommended addressing residents’ fear of falling and providing a range of options to encourage physical activity, such as dance or other movement to music.

Access the paper Physical activity and sedentary behaviour in residential aged care facility here.

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1 Comment

  1. I am a Retired Registered nurse who worked in Nursing Homes and as a Veterans Affairs Community Nurse.
    I have been teaching the Zumba Gold Programme in the Community for 8 years. This is a low impact dance class with music from around the world.

    Recently I have started the Zumba Gold Seated classes in a selection of Retirement Villages in Sydney.

    I have had some amazing results with Dementia Patients and the Elderly alike with great improvement with agility and Cognitive renewal coupled with the memory recall of the lyrics and music.

    Some have moved from their seats when they get their confidence back and danced in a circle with me!

    This is not a contrived dance class as I read hand singles and tailor the class to the individuals in front of me! The music is selected for age appropriation.

    Their smiles are my reward!

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